Crohn's Got You Feeling Low? Here's How to Clear Your Mind
When you have Crohn’s, it’s like having an unwanted guest who is always at the dinner table. It can make you feel like there’s no resolution in sight—and can turn into a mind game. “Because a disease like Crohn’s is relapsing and remitting, those unknowns can cause anxiety,” says Megan E. Riehl, Psy.D., a GI psychologist and clinical program director of the GI Behavioral Health Program at the University of Michigan. Simple strategies, like these flip-the-script mental tricks, can help you put Crohn’s in its corner so you can focus on more important things, like your life.
Stay on Top of Your Condition
The easiest way to keep your mind clear of Crohn’s is to make it someone else’s problem. See your doctor and team of specialists for regular appointments, and know they are keeping tabs of every change in your condition, so you don’t have to. Take the meds you’ve been prescribed (and let your team know if any of them aren’t working or have bad side effects). Then trust that you’ve done your part, and your docs are doing theirs, to keep your Crohn’s in line.
Know Your Rights
What if you get that gotta-go-now feeling in the middle of a meeting? What if you’re heading for a Bad Bathroom Day and need to WFH? Wondering when your Crohn’s will rear its head messes with your state of mind—and even your quality of work. Speak up, advises Riehl. “Most patients are surprised to discover that they have rights under FMLA and ADA,” she says. “By speaking up to the right people in your place of employment, it can ease stress if an issue does arise.”
Let Things Go
When you have a chronic condition like Crohn’s, it’s easy to fall down the overthinking rabbit hole—and do more damage than good. “I’ve seen patients have burnout from their diet and medication regimes, because their whole life is surrounded by what to eat and when to take their meds,” says Niket Sonpal, M.D., a gastroenterologist and assistant medical professor at Touro College in New York City. “It’s important to give yourself permission to do this or eat that once in a while.”
Be Your Own Coach
Since Crohn’s can cause fatigue, there may be times when you need to rest. Rather than view it as yet another defeat, tell yourself that you’re conserving your energy for a day when you are feeling better. “There’s only so much in the tank, so pick and choose wisely what you want to spend your energy on,” says Riehl. “If you’re feeling well, it’s a great time to exercise and be with friends and family; if you have to make modifications based on fatigue, that’s OK, too.”
Therapists are an important part of your team, and friends and family mean well. But there’s just something more meaningful about trading stories with someone who’s been there. With increased awareness of Crohn’s in recent years, there are more options than ever to connect with other Chronies. “There didn’t used to be as much advocacy, but now there are so many avenues for people to connect to others who have Crohn’s and colitis, and it’s important to do,” says Riehl.
Channel Your Inner Boy Scout
One of the biggest stressors of a condition like Crohn’s is the “what if?” aspect. Beat the brain drain of going through the possible scenarios by answering your own worries with an “if/then” statement. “Have a plan so that if you do have an accident or symptoms in public, you have an emergency kit on hand with whatever might make you feel comfortable,” says Riehl. “Knowing you have control over it in even small ways can soothe anxiety over the unknown.”
Break Your Silence
Crohn’s can throw a wrench into romantic plans. But how do you broach this non-sexy topic without venturing into TMI territory? Be honest—you may be surprised at the result, says Dr. Sonpal, who recounts a patient struggling with between-the-sheets issues. “He was having difficulty with arousal because he was feeling heavy and bloated,” he says. “I encouraged him to talk to his partner, who was very understanding. They were able to work around it, just because he had the courage to be honest.”
Choose Your Company Wisely
It’s easy to feel like Crohn’s runs your life when you have to cancel plans one too many times. But think on the bright side: Having a chronic condition can help you ID who is on your shortlist. True pals help you through go with the flow and roll with the changes that Crohn’s brings, and don’t give you a guilt trip. “People who are worth your time, energy, and love will have compassion for the steps and changes you need to take,” says Riehl.
Cut Yourself Some Slack
So, it turns out that you’re human. Like the rest of us. And while there are lots of ways you can keep the upper hand on Crohn’s, every once in a while it’s going to catch you by surprise. Don’t panic. Don’t stress. And don’t be embarrassed. Your symptoms may be more visible than some people's, but everyone has something they're dealing with. Trust us: Most people are too busy worrying about their own problems to even notice yours (for better or worse). If stuff happens, it happens. Allow yourself to get over it and move on. Everyone else already has.
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Young Adults, Crohn’s, and Mental Health: Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. (2020). “College and Mental Health.” crohnscolitisfoundation.org/campus-connection/mental-health
Crohn’s and Depression: Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. (2014). “Predictors of Depression in Youth with Crohn’s Disease.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4096803/