Approximately 1.5 million people in the United States alone are afflicted with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a category of illnesses that includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and that number is steadily growing. Learning to live with the myriad aspects of Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis treatment, including dietary restrictions and medications, can seem overwhelming. One way to ease symptoms is to learn how to de-stress and enjoy life more.

Current Research

Current medical research looks at the biological effects of sleep and exercise on mood, and well-being in the field of IBD. Stress neurobiology is a specific area being studied at UCLA in the NIH-funded UCLA Center for Neurobiology of Stress, Division of Digestive Diseases. According to Emeran Mayer, MD, “the evaluation of such mind-based approaches as yoga and mindfulness meditation . . . is a framework for patients to become active players in the path to wellness, not just passive recipients of ever more sophisticated medical therapies.”

The causes of inflammation for those with Crohn’s, UC and other forms of IBD are complex, involving a number of factors. These include one’s environment, microbial balance, genetics, stress and emotional health, diet and lifestyle habits, and immunological factors.

Stress and IBD

As many of us are aware, stress has a significant and impressionable influence on all diseases. In fact, stress and the hormones that are secreted in times of excess stress directly affect our aging. In today’s world, our lifestyles play a huge role in the prevalence of particular diseases, including all chronic illnesses and cancer.

Stress is a controversial cause of IBD because there are conflicting studies on the relation of stress and IBD. However, when we look at the picture of IBD through pathophysiology and clinical experience, it is clear that stress is absolutely connected to IBD. Stress may not be the cause of IBD, but it is certain that many IBD sufferers who report their symptoms and condition reveal that their state worsens under stress. If you have IBD and are reading this text, you can most certainly attest to what is being suggested. Haven’t you spent more time in the bathroom when you are under extreme stress?

Any chronic illness brings with it the complexities of the mind/body connection. Ways to de-stress in one’s life can be easy, but like most things, require patience and practice. The following are a few tips to guide one who sufferers from the myriad IBS/IBD diseases (including Celiac disease, Rheumatoid arthritis):

Make lifestyle changes. Changing your lifestyle can be liberating and engaging. It allows one to become more aware of their body and changes that are occurring, as opposed to merely taking a drug and waiting for the symptom to disappear. Integrating whole-body treatment and lifestyle changes can help to improve overall health rather than focusing on one issue or one specific problem.  One important lifestyle change to make is creating a routine and rhythm for yourself. Go to bed at the same time, get up at the same time and eat meals at the same time. Routines promote better breathing and better, more relaxed, breathing creates better health and better resistance to illness.

Increase laughter in your life. Laughter is extremely important for emotional and physical health. Laughter, along with socializing with friends and joining a support group through your local hospital or naturopathic health clinic, can really be beneficial in helping relieve stress.

Try yoga or meditation.  Meditation is an extremely important, yet very simple, relaxation tool.  Yoga is a great way to relax and is most effective by adopting a regular routine. Try a DVD at home or you can join a class with a trained yoga teacher.

–Dede Cummings, co-author (with Jessica Black, ND) of Living with Crohn’s & Colitis: A Comprehensive Naturopathic Guide for Complete Digestive Wellness