Stress is a tiny word that packs a powerful blow for many of us whether you have Crohn’s Disease or you are a perfect specimen of health. There are, however, serious consequences for anyone dealing with stress and a chronic illness such as an IBD. When I get stressed out, even a little bit, it wears me out. Lethargy, severe diarrhea leading to dehydration; cramping, back pain and nausea are a few of the effects I suffer when I allow stress to gain the upper hand in my life.
The questions of the past week have me spinning and wondering if I am ever going to get through to anyone about my disease. What most people do not get is that with Crohn’s Disease, we do not have be in an active flare up to experience the effects of the disease. We have a constant war going on within our bodies and that requires an enormous amount of energy to combat. In essence, my body is attacking itself because it thinks there is an invader trying to do me harm. In fact, there is nothing there and the normal chain of events that keep you, a healthy person, from getting sick or fighting the infections that do sneak in, are the same defenses that are attacking me like an AK47 in a dark alley. So, if you want to know why I am always tired and occasionally cranky- go run a couple of miles in 90 degree heat, spend an accumulated 2 hours+ in the bathroom each day and maybe then you might get it. But, I doubt it. Why? For you, it’s a moment that you will recover from. For me, it does not end, thus adding to the incredible mountain of stress accumulation.
Many health problems are caused by or exacerbated by stress, including pain of any kind, heart disease, digestive problems, sleep problems, depression, obesity, autoimmune diseases and skin conditions, such as eczema. With Crohn’s it has been reported that excessive stress can actually throw you into a flare up and none of us want that! So, what do you do to alleviate stress? First, totally eliminating stress from daily life is just not possible in my opinion. If that is something that you can manage to accomplish, I bow to you and want to hire you to calm my life down. What you can do is limit your stress by avoiding stressful triggers and situations. Following are the steps I have taken. I am not always 100% successful, but 10% success on a given day is better than nothing at all.
STEP 1: TAKE PERSONAL INVENTORY – Know thy self.
Looking at yourself in the mirror is one of life’s cruel necessities, but if you are going to reduce that which hurts you, sometimes you have to eat a little dirt.
There was a time when I was strictly a night owl. I am now an early bird, but sometimes yearn for the peacefulness that only the night can bring. I am a loner and have been all of my life. I have one friend that I would lay down my life for and she is a huge piece of my heart. I am an emotional person and a perfectionist. What I mean by ‘emotional’ is I can get irritated and pissed off easily; I am not a crier, so when I do cry, I am deeply wounded. Over the years, I have learned to control my temper and keep it in check- it can be done. I have always worn my heart on my sleeve and have a very deep compassion for people who need help and need to be ‘fixed’ so they can move on be happy. This, in my opinion, is a huge downfall of mine. It causes me great distress and I must keep in in line or my blood pressure would pop a hole in my skull and spout out of my head like a fountain. I am very self sufficient and there is not much that I cannot do. I run the gambit of being able to change my oil and tune up my car to cooking you one of the best meals you’ve ever had. I take family very seriously and as we all age, my stress climbs and you start to wait for ‘those’ phone calls. I tend to internalize that which I cannot deal with, like the death of my sister in law and the breakup of my first marriage- not for me, but the affect it’s had on other people I love.
STEP 2: RE-ENGINEER YOUR MIND - Find what works for you.
- My ’60 Minute Rule’. When something gets to me I take 60 minutes to respond and use that time to think of my options. You have my personal guarantee that what you do in the 60th minute will be greatly different than what you may have done in the first minute.If I do not have 60 minutes, I will strive to take at least 5 minutes before I act.
- Take the mental vacation approach. Walking away for 15 minutes to a quiet place, closing my eyes and going to my private island I have conjured in my mind is where I take my mental vacations. Without going into too much detail, my vacation spot is a beautiful, sunny spot with my favorite things around me. No other people are allowed there except my husband and of course, I do have Internet access. (Gotta love the Air-card) Just teasing! The point is it’s a place that is just mine and I can go there in my mind and enjoy that which brings calm over me, thus, reducing my stress.
- Rid your life of emotional vampires. Most of us have at least one of these life suckers in the family or a friend that just exhausts us. Even so, this has been the most difficult one for me to tackle. I care about people so much, but there comes a time when certain people have made themselves too much work for me to deal with on an ongoing basis. This does not mean you need to eject them from your life, but it does mean that you need to flush their crap down the commode. When they start to sink their teeth in, change the subject. When they call, don’t answer the phone or cut the call short. After a while they get the message that you are available to them only when they are not introducing drama into your life. Take the time- this behavior did not start over night and it won’t stop overnight. Rehabilitate people to be a part of your life.
- Accept that which you cannot change. Although I have made tremendous strides in this area, I struggle with this one daily. I wrote the book on trying to help people and fix situations they create for themselves. STOP BEING AN ENABLER. Making things right for people, particularly your children, is not doing you or them any favors. You are stressing yourself out needlessly and you are not making them be accountable for their decisions. What’s worse is the fact that when you do the work for another, they miss out on an invaluable skill-set of being able to correct their own mistakes and miss the train on avoiding these mistakes in the future. They end up repeating their mistakes and you find them right back on your doorstep. Teach them consequences by allowing them to be responsible for their own lives.
- Exercise. Yes, we all hate it, but don’t you hate flares and feeling craptastic even more? Taking short walks each day really does help and the more frequently you take these walks, the more you will miss them when you don’t go. It is a great ‘me time’ activity to think and borrow ideas from your neighbors awesome gardening prowess. *wink* You will also begin to see the benefits of feeling more energetic and even see the numbers drop on your scale. It is very beneficial for anyone, but for Crohn’s patients, it’s extremely beneficial in so many ways. So, get up; put on your earphones and walk to the corner today; keep it going. Maybe next week you’ll be ready to take on the whole block!
Other popular questions I will address in upcoming posts:
How does Crohn’s Disease affect your relationships?
What do you do during a flare up?
What is it like recovering from small bowel resection?
Does remission from Crohn’s Disease mean you are symptom free?
Reminder: This web site does not give medical advice. All content is based upon personal experiences and links to news reports. If you feel you may have any health condition, I urge you to seek immediate medical attention. Please use this site responsibly.