But the following areas often don’t get talked about enough, and they’re just as important!
1. Prioritize rest
We love our sleep. Seriously, who doesn’t treasure a Saturday morning when you can roll out of bed at noon, or whenever you feel like it? Yet, as a society we tend to shortchange sleep for what it really is: An incredibly healing process.
Sleeping is the body’s time to repair and recharge. Just going through everyday activities causes breakdown and during sleep, the body rebuilds. It’s not uncommon for people with Crohn’s to be more susceptible to fatigue. Practicing good sleep hygiene and taking rest breaks during the day is essential for those with Crohn’s in order to maintain the energy needed to live their lives.
Some ways to optimize sleep include the following:
- stop using electronics a couple of hours before bed
- wear an eye mask
- put up black-out shades
- avoid consuming caffeinated beverages or foods like chocolate late in the day
- keep electronics out of the room and turn off WiFi when you go to sleep to minimize EMF (electromagnetic fields) exposure, which may affect sleep quality.
However, sleep does more than just give us energy. It can actually help us combat inflammation.
In a study from 2004 comparing three groups of healthy adults who endured partial sleep deprivation, full sleep deprivation, or continued to sleep normally, C-reactive protein (CRP) levels were elevated in both groups that were deprived of sleep. This is incredibly important to acknowledge because CRP is a fundamental marker of inflammation routinely checked and monitored in blood testing for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Keeping CRP low means keeping inflammation in the body low, which in turn helps keep flares at bay.
2. Manage stress
Managing stress is a two-fold process. There are ways to (sometimes) reduce or eliminate the very things causing you stress. These could be leaving a soul-sucking job, ending a harmful relationship, or changing where you live. There are some instances where these things can’t be changed, but often we believe we’re stuck in a situation when, in reality, we have the power to change it.
For those scenarios where we can’t change the stressor, we can alter how we respond to it. One way to do this is to recognize when we’re stressing over unimportant things or things we can’t control. Whenever you feel stressed about something, ask yourself if this is:
- A) important in the grand scheme of life
- B) something you can control
If the answers are no, change the way you respond to this event.
Other ways to mitigate stress are walking or moving in some way in nature by hiking, biking, or swimming. Try setting aside time for a bath, reading a book for pleasure, painting, practicing yoga or meditation, writing in a gratitude journal, or even scheduling a weekly self-care appointment to get a massage. Stress-reducing activities will look different for everyone because we all enjoy different things.
In a yearlong 2010 study of adults with IBD, use of NSAIDs and antibiotics, as well as infections and stress, were tracked to measure their impacts on flare-ups. Perceived stress, negative mood, and life events were the only factors significantly related to the participants’ flare-ups.
What does this mean when translated to real life? The way we think about things and our reactions to them actually influence our health. By changing the way we deal with stress, we have the ability to keep our bodies on the path of healing.
3. Keep moving
Movement isn’t just for burning calories and staying trim. Moving our bodies has numerous benefits, but one of them is particularly important for people with IBD: preventing bone loss.
Due to several factors like inflammation, malabsorption, and medications, 50 percent of people with Crohn’s develop osteopenia and one-third of them will have it progress into osteoporosis. Fortunately, participating in low-impact exercise regularly can increase bone mass, as shown in a study over 12 months.
What’s even more appealing about exercise (if you aren’t excited about it already) is that it can also help with the first two things on this list! It can improve your sleep by helping you fall asleep faster and it can help release stress (as long as you aren’t burning yourself out).
There are lots of ways to support your health when living with Crohn’s disease. The best strategies are the ones that you see a benefit from and that don’t stress you out trying to make them work.
Alexa Federico is a nutritional therapy practitioner, real food and autoimmune blogger, and author of “The Complete Guide to Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative Colitis: A Road Map to Long-Term Healing,” now available on Amazon. When she’s not testing tasty recipes, you can find her enjoying her New England backyard or reading with a cup of tea. Alexa’s main hub is her blog, Girl in Healing, and she loves to show a piece of her world through Instagram.