Right around the last two months of every year, the pressure to celebrate with friends and family is ramped up more than normal — and most of these celebrations center around food. For someone with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, the holidays can spark fear, anxiety, doubt, and other strong emotions.
How can we enjoy the holidays with people we love without letting these emotions take control of us? Personally, I am very social and love seeing my friends and family. That being said, it can be tough to leave the house when we have myriad questions in our minds.
Take one question at a time, and try to answer it. There are times when I even walk around with a small pad and pen to write down things that pop into my head — ideas that I know will make my life easier with IBD.
Here are some tips to make the holidays a little easier:
If going out, start the night with your stomach on the empty side. If you have anxiety about needing to go, try to limit the amount you eat or only eat safe foods leading up to an event. This will allow you to know how your body will react. If you choose, you can also take medication or anything else that slows your system down. These work much better with a stomach that isn’t filled to the max. Slowing your down system can play a big role in allowing you to enter a party without constant worry. If you do take something to slow down your system, make sure you drink fluids, as anti-diarrheal products can dehydrate you.
Bring food with you if needed. If you’re going to an event with family and friends, chances are good that some of them know you have IBD and will understand what you’re going through. I promise you that they would rather you bring your own food and be there, than not attend at all. Don’t hesitate to let the host know you’ll be bringing something you know will allow you to feel comfortable and enjoy yourself.
Don’t let fear control you. Many times when we are around large groups of people we wonder how our IBD will react. What will I do if...? Where is the bathroom?
Normally these are questions that have simple answers. Take some time before you attend a holiday party to plan a few things. Have a backpack with anything you might need; ask if there is a second bathroom, if needed; bring medicines with you, etc. Take control of the situation and plan accordingly. If you know you have all the things you might need, you'll be less anxious.
Relax. This can be tough at times, but you’re there to have a good time, not stress over everything. If you feel fear creeping into your mind or if you are becoming stressed, take a break, walk outside for a few minutes, breathe in and out deeply, and remind yourself that the people around you are good people. Most everyone knows someone with a chronic illness these days, and they will be there to help you. You don’t have to worry about how they will react.
Smile and be confident. Have you ever noticed that most of us like being around confident people, no matter what they are going through? It’s hard at times, but be confident. You were invited for a reason, and that's because the people at the party enjoy your company. Don’t shy away from talking about your IBD, and even have fun with it. If you have your IBD under control mentally, no one will around you will be thinking about it, either — and if anything ever happened, chances are excellent that they would be there to help.
Don’t let your IBD win, or control your life. Think about what bothers you and figure out how to limit those fears. With a little planning and preparation, you’ll not only feel better about getting out with family and friends, but you'll be happy that you spent time with people you care about during this special time of year — and they'll be happy they spent time with you.
Brian Greenberg is founder of the Intense Intestines Foundation. He primarily works as an advocate to help patients with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and ostomies. You can reach Brian on Twitter at @BrianIIF or email at Brian@IntenseIntestines.org. If you would like to connect with the IIF more please visit www.Facebook.com/IntenseIntestines, orwww.Twitter.com/NtenseNtestines. And you can join Brian in the conversation about all things IBD on the IBDHealthCentral Facebook page.