9 Tips for Better Mental Health With Crohn’s

by Marjorie Korn Health Writer

Crohn’s is a disease of ups and downs; good days and flare days; relative ease and utter despair. The mental health game is real. And veteran Crohnies know that in order to find your way through future flare-ups, creating a solid mental-health strategy now can be every bit as important as having a trusted doctor in your corner to help you sort out the best treatment. We’ve assembled some universal ways to prep both mind and body for rougher times while things are calm. It takes trial and error to find what works best for you, but these tips will give you a jumpstart.

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Make Your Bed

It sounds like a little thing, but fixing up your sheets and pillows will make you less likely to climb back in on a bad day. It also acts as a ritual, which can be an anchor, especially when things are feeling out of your control. Add in other morning routines, like drinking hot water with lemon, stretching, or repeating affirmations. And rituals don’t have to be a solo endeavor. A review of research in The International Journal of Psychology finds that when a family has rituals, a member who has a chronic illness does better, health-wise. Tuesday Game Nights, anyone?

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Always Be Prepared

More prep, less stress. Assembling a flare-up kit can make you feel more secure. For instance, have one or two plug-in heating pads at the ready. (The microwave ones always seem to lose their heat right when you’ve gotten comfortable!) And frequent trips to the bathroom, as well as diarrhea, can make for a sore and sensitive rectum or anus. Stock up on Epsom salt for a warm, soothing bath, says Larry Ross of Bessemer, AL, who lives with Crohn’s disease. And dip into Aquaphor or topical CBD cream to help chapped or irritated areas, too.

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Organize a Dance Party

To break free from the stress and discomfort of Crohn's, you gotta shake it off. Public health concerns may dictate your dance party is a virtual one, but that’s OK. Send an invite to your friends, fire up the Zoom (spring for the paid kind so you can go longer than 40 minutes), and you and your friends will be bopping, because cutting loose is a fast way to take your mind off Crohn’s. These days, there are tons of DJs spinning live, so log into one of those—we are partial to D-Nice.

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Explore Complementary Medicine

Crohn’s can make you feel like you’ve lost control, but there are centuries-old DIY methods that may help ease some symptoms and help you feel like you’re taking charge and moving forward with your disease. Researchers believe acupuncture may help ease some Crohn’s symptoms, and can reduce back and neck pain, too. Not into needles? For people with bowel issues, ginger may reduce cramping, flatulence, and bloating. Steep it in tea or have a few pieces of the crystalized kind.

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Corral Your Crew

Crohn’s patients often say that the disease steals away their social lives. Agreeing to weekend plans a few days ahead can feel like you’re jinxing things. COVID or not, make a regular date with a close group of friends—either in person or virtually. And don’t break the tradition unless you absolutely need to. Even checking in with your people for a minute or two lets them send you a dose of support. If feelings of isolation creep up, check out the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, which has a list of support groups across the country.

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Dial in Your Diet

The food-mood connection is real, folks. Although it might feel like all you can stomach at times, plain toast and an electrolyte beverage is not enough nutrition to get through the day, and that can lead to low mood. Talk to your doctor about testing for nutrient deficiencies (including vitamins C and B12, folic acid, and zinc), and you may need bone-supporting supplements, too. Then, talk with a nutritionist who can help craft a diet with whole foods that meet your body’s needs while avoiding foods that cause a flare.

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Engage in Stress Defense

Does this sound familiar? Work is bonkers, your self-care regimen is nil, and boom—a flare-up. Stress may be the cause. A small study in PLOS ONE finds that mind-body practices—like meditation, relaxation, breathing practice, and tai chi—may help ease IBD symptoms, lower stress, and help with pain management. Borrow this mantra from SarahBethYoga, who lives with IBD: “My body is healing. My body needs my help. I will rest, and focus on what makes me happy in this moment. My body is healing, and I am happy to help.”

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Do Gentle Yoga

Yoga can alleviate symptoms and identify where you’re holding tension, says Gina Norman, creator of Kaia Yoga studios, which has locations throughout Connecticut. “Breathing into that space of pain, discomfort, or bloating can help alleviate some of that tension,” she says. Crohn’s-specific poses include child’s pose with a bolster across your shoulders creates space in the belly. Hip-release poses, like Pigeon (with a bolster supporting your back thigh and sits bone) can help activate the psoas muscle alongside the groin that’s connected to the diaphragm to help the abdomen relax.

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Get Head Help

Bottom line: You don’t have to struggle alone with Crohn’s. And it’s better to establish a connection with a mental-health professional when things are going OK, so when something upsetting does happen, you’re not starting from zero. Living with Crohn’s involves some intense doctor and hospital visits: A study from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found about a third of inflammatory bowel disease patients experience medical post-traumatic stress symptoms. A therapy sesh can help you stay a step ahead of everything going on.

Marjorie Korn
Meet Our Writer
Marjorie Korn

Marjorie Korn is a health, medicine, and features writer based in New York City. She is also a Narrative Medicine instructor at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons.