Originally posted: November 9, 2019, Updated: September 6, 2021
This post contains cited information from the American Psychological Association, The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook by Mickey Trescott and Angie Alt, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, and Healthy Gut Healthy You by Dr. Michael Ruscio.
Anxiety…anyone else struggle with this? I have struggled with some form of anxiety my whole life, but since having IBD it has only gotten worse. Not only is anxiety a horrible problem on its own, it can exacerbate symptoms making life unbearable sometimes. Mental health is tightly wound within your IBD journey be it anxiety, depression, stress or guilt. Today we’ll focus on anxiety and how to manage it, but don’t worry, we’ll touch other areas of mental health soon!
The reason I want to touch on anxiety is because mine has been really bad lately! (And I’m currently writing this on an airplane which is like the most anxious I am EVER!) I have a problem with not being in control and let’s face it, IBD is unpredictable! We think we have some sort of grasp on our disease and “BOOM!” out of nowhere symptoms may appear, or life happens, and you begin worrying. Let’s explore what anxiety can look like, and what you can do to help manage it.
What is anxiety exactly?
I know most have a general idea but The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as an “emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” They also explain that people who suffer from anxiety may also have “recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat.” (APA source)
For us, anxiety can look like a constant state of worry or a sense of having no control. The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook explains that it can also look like a fear of becoming physically disabled or worrying over numerous hospitalizations, weighing treatment options, health care costs, maintaining work or even worrying if people will understand your disease. Like I said earlier, I struggle with being in control, preparedness for upcoming events or situations, and worrying about when I may get sick again…even though I am in deep remission. Does this sound like what you may be going through?
What kind of effect does anxiety really have on your IBD?
Well for one, it has your body in a constant state of stress and panic which adds to the stress that IBD already has on your body. Your flight or fight system is constantly going, producing too many hormones which causes an array of problems including fatigue, sugar cravings and weakening our immune systems. It also causes your digestive system to contract which then can cause cramping and urgency to use the bathroom…we don’t need any more of that which we already have! In Healthy Gut Healthy You, there is an entire chapter dedicated to stress and adrenal fatigue and how it affects our bodies, and specifically mentions IBD. I highly suggest reading this book, but the big takeaway is that studies in mice showed that stress increased inflammation in their microbiota, which shows that stress does have the capability to increase inflammation which is something we do not want!
So how can we address anxiety and IBD?
It happens, everyone gets anxious every now and again, but what steps can you take to avoid chronic stress? There are many natural ways to try an alleviate anxiety which we will discuss, but if it gets too intense and something you cannot get under control, don’t be ashamed to talk to a professional. Sometimes we need more help, which is something I definitely have taken advantage of.
- Try meditation or breathing exercises. I started using an app called InsightTimer to take a moment to breathe everyday.
- Go to a yoga class. I was so against this in the beginning because I wasn’t sure I was “good” at yoga. Taking an hour or so once a week to breath and stretch really helps alleviate the anxiety!
- Exercise! It doesn’t need to be intense exercise. Simply go for a walk, or just be outside in nature. I love walking my dog or busting out a Shaun T workout to help me out.
- Journal or color in a coloring book. Sometimes writing down your thoughts or focusing on something else may help ease your anxiousness.
- Consider using probiotics (after consulting your doctor). Dr. Michael Ruscio suggests them for people with IBD. Increased stress has been shown to decrease levels of certain bacteria in your gut.
- Diffuse, roll on, or wear some lavender oil. It has been known to bring some ease to anxious people.
- Surround yourself with friends and loved ones. Reach out to a friend or family member and share some coffee or lunch. Let loose and be present. It helps to keep racing thoughts at bay by distracting yourself in a positive way.
- Talk to a professional. There are many different approaches to handling anxiety and talking to a professional can help guide you in the right direction for your level of anxiety and health condition.
Do any of you suffer from anxiety? What are some things you do to help alleviate it? Your girl needs some more tips!