If you suffer from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), you know that it can do a number not only on your physical well-being but also your mental health. Try incorporating some of our tips for improving mental health when living with IBD.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can be a debilitating condition. It’s a chronic condition that affects the digestive system and causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. People with IBD often experience symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and weight loss. However, IBD is not just a physical condition, as it can have a significant impact on a person’s mental health, too.
Studies have found that people with IBD are more likely to experience mental health conditions than the general population. The reason for this connection isn’t entirely clear, but it could be due to the stress associated with managing a chronic illness, the impact of symptoms on daily life, and the overall chronic nature of the disease. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a vicious cycle because mental health problems can also worsen IBD symptoms.
If you have IBD and are experiencing some of the mental health issues that sometimes go along with it, there are things you can do to improve your mood and calm your racing thoughts. Try one or more of the mental health tips for IBD sufferers below to see if it works for you.
Build A Support System
Building a support system is crucial for anyone managing mental health, especially those living with IBD. Connecting with others who share your experiences can help you feel less isolated and reduce feelings of anxiety or depression. By communicating openly with loved ones, you can establish a support network that can provide emotional and practical support when needed.
- Join a support group: Connecting with others who share your experiences can be helpful since it let’s you know you’re not alone. There are others who know what you’re going through and who understand. (Check out the NAFC message boards and join thousands who have found comfort in talking with others about their condition.)
- Communicate openly: Let your loved ones know how they can support you, and be open and honest about your needs and feelings.
Seek Professional Help
If you find that you’re feeling really low, and your friends and family aren’t enough to pull you out of it, talking with a professional can be incredibly helpful. A therapist who understands IBD can teach you coping strategies to manage anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms. Addressing emotional issues related to IBD, such as the impact on relationships or self-esteem, can help you develop a more positive outlook and improve your quality of life. Learning coping strategies can also help you manage stress and improve overall mental health.
- Find a therapist who understands IBD: Look for a therapist who is familiar with the unique challenges and stressors of living with IBD.
- Learn coping strategies: A therapist can teach you coping strategies to manage anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms.
- Address emotional issues: A therapist can help you address emotional issues related to IBD, such as the impact on relationships, body image, and self-esteem.
Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, deep breathing, and focusing on the present moment, can be calming and helpful. These practices can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, and increase a sense of calm and well-being. By practicing mindfulness regularly, you may also develop a greater awareness of your body and its needs, which can help you manage IBD symptoms more effectively.
- Try meditation: Meditation is the practice of learning to observe your thoughts without judgment. It helps to give you a better awareness of what’s going on in your mind so that you can see it from different perspectives.
- Practice deep breathing: Deep breathing exercises can help you relax and release tension, which can be helpful in managing IBD symptoms.
- Focus on the present: Practicing mindfulness can help you focus on the present moment and let go of worries about the past or future.
We all know that we should exercise, but did you know regular exercise has a huge impact on mental health? It’s a great mental health tip for IBD sufferers since exercise releases endorphins, which can boost your mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Additionally, regular exercise can release stress, improve your sleep, improve your mood, and increase your energy (among it’s many other health benefits). Finding an activity you enjoy can also be motivating and help you stick to a regular exercise routine. Bonus points if you can do it with a buddy!
- Find an activity you enjoy: Whether it’s walking, swimming, gardening, or yoga, finding an activity you enjoy can help you stay motivated to exercise regularly.
- Boost your mood: Exercise releases endorphins, which can boost your mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Incorporate others: Including a friend in your workout plans not only keeps you accountable to stick with it, but it also makes it more fun!
Get Plenty Of Sleep
Getting enough sleep is essential for managing mental health when living with IBD. Establishing a regular sleep schedule, creating a relaxing environment, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bedtime can all improve sleep quality. When you get enough restful sleep, you are better equipped to manage stress and cope with the challenges of living with IBD.
- Stick to a schedule: Establishing a regular sleep schedule can help regulate your body’s internal clock and improve sleep quality.
- Create a relaxing environment: Make your bedroom a calm and soothing space that promotes relaxation and sleep.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol: Caffeine and alcohol can interfere with sleep, so it’s best to avoid them before bedtime.
Eat A Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet is important for managing both physical and mental health when living with IBD. A balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can provide essential nutrients and promote overall health. Just be sure to avoid those foods that cause your IBD symptoms to flare up.
- Consult a dietitian: A registered dietitian can help you develop a healthy eating plan that supports your overall health and manages IBD symptoms.
- Eat a balanced diet: Aim for a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
- Monitor trigger foods: Keep track of foods that trigger IBD symptoms and avoid them as much as possible.
Avoid Trigger Foods
We mentioned it in the previous tip, but this may be one of the most important mental health tips for IBD sufferers.. While eating a healthy diet is important, even some healthy foods can trigger your IBD symptoms. Identifying trigger foods and avoiding them as much as possible can help reduce IBD symptoms and improve overall well-being. Try different foods and recipes to discover substitutions for your favorites that cause problems.
- Identify trigger foods: Keep a food journal to track which foods worsen your symptoms.
- Read labels: Read food labels carefully to avoid hidden ingredients that may trigger symptoms.
- Experiment with different foods: Try new foods and recipes to find alternatives that are easy on your digestive system.
Manage Your Stress
Managing stress is essential for maintaining good mental health when you have IBD. Practicing relaxation techniques can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. Making time for hobbies and learning time management skills can also help reduce stress and promote a sense of control over your daily life.
- Practice relaxation techniques: Things like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization can help you relax and reduce stress.
- Make time for hobbies: Engaging in activities you enjoy can help reduce stress and improve mood.
- Learn time management skills: Effective time management can help reduce stress and promote a sense of control over your daily life.
Taking breaks throughout the day gives you some breathing space to manage your symptoms and avoid feeling overwhelmed. If you work, try to plan for taking the last 10 minutes of every hour for yourself. When you’re not working, make sure to take time for yourself to allow your body and mind to relax.
- Schedule breaks: Take regular breaks throughout the day to rest and recharge.
- Get outside: Spending time outdoors can help reduce stress and promote relaxation.
- Engage in a hobby: Pursue a hobby or activity you enjoy during your breaks to recharge your energy.
Staying connected with others is crucial for maintaining good mental health when you have IBD. Using technology to stay in touch with friends and family can help you feel less isolated while joining online support groups or forums can connect you with others who understand
- Use technology: Stay connected with friends and family through phone calls, video chats, or social media.
- Join online communities: Join online support groups or forums to connect with others who understand what you’re going through.
- Attend events: Attend events and activities related.
Keep A Journal
Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you process your emotions and track your progress over time. Many patients with IBD experience a range of emotions, including anxiety, depression, and stress. Keeping a journal can help you identify patterns in your emotions and symptoms, which can lead to a better understanding of your condition.
- Set aside time each day to write in your journal. This could be in the morning, before bed, or at any other time that works for you.
- Write down your thoughts and feelings as honestly as possible, without judgment. You may want to use prompts to help you get started, such as “today I feel…” or “Something that’s been on my mind is…”
- Review your journal regularly to look for patterns or insights. This can help you identify triggers and develop coping strategies that work for you.
Practice Self Care
Take time to do things you enjoy and that make you feel good, such as taking a bath, reading a book, or listening to music. Practicing self-care is an important way to manage anxiety and depression because it helps you reduce stress and increase your overall sense of well-being. By taking time to do things that make you feel good, you can improve your mood.
- Make a list of activities that make you feel good. This doesn’t have to be your typical spa-like activities – just think of things that you enjoy and that make you feel energized or relaxed. Choose one activity to do each day.
- Set aside time each day to practice self-care. This could be as little as 10 minutes or as long as an hour, depending on your schedule and needs.
- Be intentional about your self-care activities. Focus on the present moment and enjoy the activity, rather than worrying about other things.
Plan for the day ahead to ensure you have enough time to manage your care/condition. Much of the anxiety that IBD sufferers experience stems from the fear of having an attack in public. Not knowing where or when an attack may strike can leave them feeling unsure, and nervous to even venture out. Combat this by planning your day as much as you can. Having structure can help you feel more secure, and knowing what you will do if you do happen to have an attack or accident can give you some peace of mind.
- Know where the restrooms are. If you can, learn where the restrooms will be located when you’re going out.
- Pack for an emergency. Always have extra underclothing, wipes, and a spare ziplock bag (for soiled clothing) in case you experience an accident.
- Plan your itinerary in advance so that you have a good structure for your day or outing and know what to expect.
Manage Your Medications
Stay on top of your medications and work with your healthcare team to manage your symptoms. If you’re taking medication for your IBD, it’s important to adhere to it as best you can so that it’s able to do its job. Always talk with your healthcare provider before stopping or changing medication.
- Take your medication. Be sure to take your medication as directed, and don’t skip doses.
- Talk to your doctor about side effects. If your medication is causing you to experience unpleasant side effects, talk to your healthcare team about switching to something different.
- Talk to your doctor about the feelings you’re experiencing. If you are diagnosed with depression or anxiety, your doctor may recommend special medications to address those specific conditions.
Be Kind To Yourself
Be patient and kind to yourself, and remember that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it. Inflammatory bowel disease can be a very difficult condition to manage for many reasons. The physical and emotional struggles it brings can be a burden and can bring on many thoughts and feelings, including denial, frustration, embarrassment and anger. Make sure to give yourself grace when managing the condition.
- Don’t blame yourself. Know that there is nothing that you have done to cause you to have IBD – it’s not your fault.
- Plan for some extra margin in your days. Give yourself extra time during the day to manage your condition.
- Don’t feel like you have to apologize for your condition. Having IBD is out of your control.
Finally, the most important thing to do if you’re experiencing depression or anxiety with IBD is to speak with your doctor. While these tips are good starting points, your doctor knows you best and can work with you to develop a good plan for overcoming these feelings.