Your Guide to a Better Workday With UC
If you’re living with Ulcerative Colitis (UC), there’s a pretty good chance you’re managing your disease while also managing a full-time career. A recent study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology reports that most people with UC are diagnosed while they’re of working age (usually 15-30 years old). If you’re smack dab in the middle of your most-productive years and handling life with UC, you might be questioning whether you can still reach your professional goals. Don’t worry! To help you follow your dreams, we brought in experts to help you adapt your workday to your UC.
First, Know Your Rights
If you have UC, you are entitled to certain workplace protections under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This set of laws applies to all public and private employers with 15 or more employees. The ADA states that people with disability—UC included—may request accommodations at any point during their employment or as a job applicant. Employers must comply as long as they don’t cause undue hardship for your employer. For example, your employer may allow your desk to be moved near a restroom but working from home may not be acceptable. It can be worthwhile to ask!
You’re Entitled to Health-Related Leave
If your employer has at least 50 employees working within a 75-mile radius, and you have worked for them for at least 12 months, you may qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The law provides qualifying employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for medical reasons. This can include time off for surgery, hospital stays, mental health, regular doctor visits, lab draws, or infusion appointments. There will be some paperwork to complete so let your doctor and employer know as soon as possible you will need time off.
Ask Your Boss About a Flex Schedule
In at least one study, teleworking and flexible working hours improved job participation of people with bowel disease. If you believe your professional duties allow for some scheduling flexibility or remote work, it might be worth talking to your employer about working a slightly different schedule from the standard 8-to-5 workday. For example, if you tend to have frequent bowel movements in the early mornings, it may benefit you to talk to your boss about a later start time.
Pack Your Lunch With Foods That Work for You
Arriving at your desk without an eating plan for the day can lead to bad food choices. “Bringing your lunch to work instead of ordering out can give you more control over what you eat,” says Christine Allen, a registered dietician and clinical nutrition manager at the University of Maryland Shore Regional Health. Stopping at the deli counter means you may end up with surprise ingredients that don’t agree with your UC. “When you go to a restaurant, it can be hard to control how the food is prepared, so you might think it is healthy, but it’s not,” says Allen.
Drink Your Water
“If you have UC, hydration is absolutely key,” according to Allen. How much water should you be consuming? “The general rule of thumb is to divide your body weight by two, and that determines the number of ounces of water a day you should be drinking,” she says. And if you are having diarrhea, Allen recommends drinking eight ounces of water after each episode. Remember, too, that not all drinks are created equal. Limit caffeine—a known stimulant. “If your gut is already hyperactive, caffeinated drinks may make things worse,” says Allen.
Snack When You Can
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends eating small meals or snacks every three to four hours if you are living with UC. “Smaller, more frequent meals are often better tolerated and easier to digest,” explains Allen. Try snacking on crackers with smooth peanut butter, rice cakes topped with banana slices and a drizzle of honey, or fruit and yogurt. You’ll want to avoid sugary foods, foods high in fat, and anything super spicy.
Keep Up With Your Treatment
Calming inflammation, feeling better, and resuming daily activities are good reasons to keep up with your UC treatment. Sticking to the right treatment can also improve your work productivity. A survey carried out by Crohn’s and Colitis UK found that people with Crohn’s or colitis who were feeling well had a total work productivity score better than that of the general healthy population. (To note: It’s not that having UC makes you more productive; rather, more than half of the respondents reported giving more at work to make up for any shortcomings that might result during a flare.)
Reduce Stress When Possible
If it seems like stress makes your UC symptoms worse, you’re right. “Our brain is directly connected to our gut,” says Carol Leslie, an occupational therapist at Carol A. Leslie Wellness & Life Coaching in Cleveland, OH. “When we are running late or feeling anxious, the brain sends flight-or-fight signals to the gut, causing hyperactivity and increasing UC symptoms.” So working on being calm, grounded, and assertive at work can trigger the opposite effect: Surprise! Your symptoms will likely calm down. Try taking a few minutes at your desk for simple relaxation breathing when things pile up.
Be Intentional About Sharing Your Diagnosis
How much you tell your colleagues about your disease is completely up to you. If you do decide to be open about your condition, Leslie recommends doing it matter-of-factly. “If you are dramatic, this can create awkwardness,” she says. Instead, try to calmly explain that you may need to make more frequent pit stops than others due to your condition. Leslie believes how you describe your condition and communicate your needs will set the tone for others. “You might nonchalantly say: ‘If you are looking for me, I may be in the bathroom.’”
Go Easy on Yourself
To navigate your professional goals, you may have to practice mindfulness and positive self-talk. All-or-nothing thinking doesn’t allow for any grey areas, only good or bad ones, and that can lead to frustration.“When you are feeling a flare coming on, instead of saying to yourself, ‘Oh no this is going to be bad’ it is better to say, ‘I feel a flare up coming on and I know I can shorten it if I take care of myself’” Leslie says. When you learn to let go of your fear, you open up the space to increase your wisdom, she says: And that’s something we can all use more of.
UC Diagnosis Average Age: World Journal of Gastroenterology. (2020.) “Golimumab in real-world practice in patients with ulcerative colitis: Twelve-month results.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7284175/
Americans With Disabilities Act: Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. (2021.) “Employee and employer resources.” https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/coronavirus/relief-and-assistance
Family and Medical Leave Act: U.S. Department of Labor. (2021.) “Family and medical leave.” https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/fmla
Flex Schedules: European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. (2019.) “Investing in workability of patients with inflammatory bowel disease: results of a pilot project Activ84worK (Activate for work).” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30192245/
Keep Up With Treatment: European Federation of Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis Associations. (2021.) “World IBD Day 2020.” http://www.efcca.org/en/events/world-ibd-day-2020