9 Ways to Lower Stress When You Have Ulcerative Colitis
Life is stressful. Let’s just put it out there. And when you’re living with ulcerative colitis, you have to deal with life’s demands just as much as anyone else. The problem is, stress can trigger UC flares, which brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “under pressure.” To keep your symptoms at bay, you want to seek out activities and strategies that create a more peaceful daily routine, without your condition getting in the way. We talked with the experts for advice on how to do exactly that.
Get Zen About It
This might sound like a no-brainer, but accepting your ulcerative colitis is the first step toward feeling like this chronic condition doesn’t control you. Here’s where it gets tricky: “Symptoms of ulcerative colitis can result in significant stress themselves,” says Aida Habtezion, M.D., an IBD specialist and associate professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. In other words, the disease causes you to stress, which in turn worsens the disease. Talk about a catch-22! The more you can recognize this reality, the more power you’ll feel to make lifestyle changes that can help you.
Anticipate Your Needs
Accepting your situation also means planning ahead. Think about what supplies you want to keep on hand throughout the day to make life easier. “Patients can plan for the worrisome events–not reaching the bathroom in time–and determine restroom locations or having a change of clothes on hand,” says Kian Keyashian, M.D., also an IBD specialist and associate professor at Stanford. Even something as simple as an extra pair of jeans can eliminate your fear of worst-case scenarios.
Go Ahead, Bust a Move
It’s no secret that physical activity and a wholesome diet can significantly reduce your stress levels. As much as you’re able, incorporate movement into your daily routine. Ideally, you’re shooting for 30 minutes, five days a week, but even a short, brisk walk is good for your mood—and your plumbing. Drink lots of water and aim to eat nourishing foods you know you tolerate well. If you haven’t figured out your ideal diet yet, talk to your doctor or a nutritionist who specializes in IBD about different options.
Arm Yourself With Info
Sometimes, the most stressful thing about having a chronic illness is not knowing what will happen next. For better or worse, the internet is full of intel on UC—and some sitea are more reputable than others. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation is a good place to start: The organization is a non-profit dedicated to helping UC patients enjoy more satisfying lives. The site includes information about local chapters, current research, and doctors in your area.
Try Yoga or Meditation
Yoga is a great way to get your body moving and calm your mind—a one-two punch! Both yoga and meditation rely on deep-breathing techniques to maximize the benefits of the practices. That’s important, because deep breathing has been shown to lower the body’s physiological response to stress, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Inhaling and exhaling from your diaphragm lowers your heart rate, strengthens your immune system, and reduces hormones that contribute to anxiety. (Raise your hand if you started taking deep breaths while reading this. Same.)
See a Mental Health Professional
If you’re dealing with chronic stress and anxiety (or even if you’re not!), therapy can be a life-changing resource. “If your stress level is particularly elevated, you should not hesitate to seek out professional help from a psychologist or psychiatrist,” says Dr. Habtezion. “Cognitive behavioral therapy may help, as well as hypnotherapy and meditation.” Among other perks, a therapist can help you identify your anxiety triggers; then, you can work to together to devise a plan to counteract them.
Find Joy Through Hobbies
That might sound trite, but the truth is, when you’re happy, it’s hard to be stressed. And finding a simple activity you can do every day that makes you smile is worth its weight in gold. Pursuing activities that you find pleasure in, just for the sake of fun and stress release, can go a long way to easing UC symptoms, says Dr. Keyashian. Get into cooking, learn a new craft, do puzzles, or master an adult boardgame to energize your mind and lift your spirits in a fresh way.
Expand Your Social Circle
Friends really are the best medicine, especially when they can relate to what you’re going through. Multiple studies have shown that strong social connections can improve your physical and emotional health, and even increase the length of your life! Look for IBD support groups in your area or join an online community to help you meet other people with similar stories. They can provide you with tips, a listening ear, and a shared laugh over the unique (and, OK, sometimes awkward) things you experience.
Research shows that insomnia and anxiety go hand in hand, so an increase in one can exacerbate the other. According to a study in the European Journal of Physiology, a lack of sleep can even wreak havoc on your immune system. To mitigate this, it helps to get your body on a regular sleep-wake cycle. Pick a bedtime and try your best to stick to it each night. Even if you don’t always accomplish this, having a goal in mind will help you keep track of how much you’re sleeping—and how it affects the way you feel.
Common Stressors for Ulcerative Colitis: Journal of Clinical Nursing. (2017.) “Stress, coping and support needs of patients with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease: a qualitative descriptive study.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27626615
Stress and Ulcerative Colitis: Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. (n.d.) “Stress and Anxiety.” site.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/resources/stress-and-anxiety.html
Ulcerative Colitis Diet: Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. (n.d.) “What Should I Eat?” crohnscolitisfoundation.org/diet-and-nutrition/what-should-i-eat
Social Connections and Reduced Mortality: Science. (1988.) “Social Relationships and Health.” researchgate.net/profile/Debra_Umberson/publication/19756223_Social_Relationships_and_Health/links/00b495220b128b3aec000000.pdf
Anxiety and Sleep: Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (n.d.) “Sleep Disorders.” adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/sleep-disorders
Sleep and Immunity: European Journal of Physiology. (2011.) “Sleep and immune function.” link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00424-011-1044-0