Tips for easing stress when you have Crohn's disease

Try these stress management techniques that can help manage the body's stress response to help you feel better.

Living with a chronic health condition such as Crohn's disease can be stressful and cause feelings of anxiety. Although stress and anxiety do not cause Crohn's disease, they are often linked with flares and can worsen symptoms, adding to emotional distress.

When you're emotionally stressed, it's common for the digestive process to temporarily change. The stomach empties more slowly and secretes more acid. The process that controls the movement of food and waste through the small and large intestines changes. This leads to bowel symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, pain, diarrhea, excess gas and bloating.

However, you can take steps that help manage the body's stress response to help you feel better. Try the following stress management strategies and experiment to see what combination of activities works best for you. Keep in mind that relaxation techniques take practice. Try something for a while. If it doesn't work for you, move on to something else.

Deep breathing. Breathing exercises have many physical and emotional benefits. Deep breathing is also known as belly breathing and diaphragmatic breathing. Breathing techniques increase the supply of oxygen to the brain and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Activating the diaphragm gently massages the internal organs, including the intestines and stomach. This can help ease abdominal pain, urgency, bloating and constipation. There are many different types of breathing exercises. Whatever technique you choose, the goal is to slow down the pace of your breath so that you can relax your body and feel better.

Meditation. Meditation can be an effective tool for managing stress. The purpose of meditation is to relax your body and quiet your mind of distracting or not helpful thoughts by focusing on the present moment. You can choose to focus on your breathing or silently repeat a word or phrase, called a mantra. There are several styles and approaches to meditation. You can even download meditation apps to your phone. The key is to find what works for you.

Biofeedback. Biofeedback is a type of mind-body technique that teaches you to control some of your body's functions, such as your heart rate, breathing patterns and muscle responses. During a biofeedback session, you're connected to electrical pads that help you get information about your body. The goal is to recognize when you're feeling tense, and your body is showing symptoms of stress, so you can learn to enter a more relaxed state. Ask your health care team for more information about using biofeedback.

Physical activity. In addition to increasing strength and stamina, being physically active may help reduce stress and depressive symptoms. Research also indicates that physical exercise might help digestive functions become more stable. Talk with your health care professional about the right exercise program for you.

Healthy food and sleep. Eating a well-balanced diet — while avoiding foods that cause gastrointestinal symptoms — and getting enough sleep are fundamental to well-being.

The body functions better when it receives appropriate nutrition, supplying the energy it needs to handle daily living and stressful situations. Quality sleep is vital to both physical health and emotional well-being. High-quality sleep supports all bodily functions, including the immune system and inflammatory response, two aspects that impact Crohn's disease. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night or more if you feel fatigued.

Cognitive behavioral therapy. Many people with Crohn's disease find it helpful to talk with a mental health professional about their struggles. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common type of talk therapy, also called psychotherapy. A qualified professional works with you to examine the relationships among your thoughts, feelings and behavior. The goal is to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to stress, depression and anxiety. If you're feeling sad, depressed or anxious, it's important to share how you're feeling with your care team so that they can help you get additional care.

There are many different types of relaxation techniques. An internet search will provide various options, resources or apps for you to explore. Experiment with different options and styles to find what works best for you.

March 07, 2024 See more In-depth