Coping with the physical symptoms of a chronic disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis can be very challenging, but what about its effects on your emotions? Can your state of mind affect your physical symptoms?
While research has shown that stress does not cause Crohn’s or colitis, we now know that perceived stress and a flare-up of Crohn’s or colitis symptoms are related. These diseases may also impact people psychologically even when the disease is not active.
Depression can aggravate the body’s reaction to inflammation and may increase the symptoms of Crohn’s or colitis. People with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis may be at a higher risk of developing psychological problems, such as depression, than the general population.
Here we have the classic “chicken and the egg” dilemma – Crohn’s and colitis can cause depression and exert stress on those who suffer from the disease; conversely the perception of stress and the shadow of depression can increase symptoms and even bring on a flare-up. At this time, science does not know which comes first – but we do know that the mind and the body work together to jointly affect a person’s health.
The mind-body connection is a powerful one. What can you do to shape it in a direction that is most beneficial to you and your health? Here are some general tips that have helped others with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis feel stronger, both emotionally and physically:
- Exercise, sports and activities - When you are not in a flare-up, get involved in an activity that keeps you moving. Just being engaged in something that is physical enhances your feelings of strength and restrains the attitude that you are a person who is “sick.” When you are having a flare-up, try to keep moving with gentle activities such as tai chi, walking or yoga. Think “I can” rather than “I cannot”
- Don't sweat the small stuff - Putting life’s issues into perspective and not letting them get to you are incredibly helpful in reducing stress and relieving tension.
- Ask your doctor for a referral to a stress-management or mental health professional. You can learn techniques that will help you cope with stress in a useful and empowering way.
- Don’t over-commit and over-schedule yourself to the point where you are frustrated and exhausted. You can’t maintain a healthy spirit when you are drained and at the end of your rope.
- Find a community of people who understand what you are going through and share your concerns. Don’t let these diseases isolate you from other people – loneliness can be a terrible side-effect of a chronic disease but it doesn’t have to be.
Click here to find out more about Crohn's and Colitis Canada groups in your community.
To find out more about our one-on-one peer mentoring program, visit our Gutsy Peer Support page.
learn more about mental health and IBD
Watch the video below to learn about the relationship between IBD and mental health, and get tips on how to cope with living with Crohn's disease and colitis to promote mental health and wellness. This presentation is suitable for youth and adult audiences living with, or affected by Crohn's disease and colitis.
Click the video below to learn from a clinician and expert in the field about the brain-gut connection, and the relationship between inflammatory bowel disease and mental health. This presentation was part of the Gutsy Learning Series.