Whenever Serena Ehrlich goes someplace new, she scouts out the location of the bathroom. That's because Ehrlich, 38, a Los Angeles-based salesperson for a commercial wire service, has ulcerative colitis. She developed the disease 12 years ago and has been in remission for the past three. Still, the old habit lingers. "Everyone who has ulcerative colitis will tell you that when you walk into a bookstore, a shop, or a restaurant, that's the one thing you want to know first. It's our rule of thumb."
When you stop to focus on your breath and do it with purpose, it can have a positive effect on your mental and physical health. Deep breathing not only relaxes your mind, it also sends more blood flowing through your body.
Take a slow, deep breath -- filling your lungs with air -- then let the air out slowly and fully, feeling your muscles loosen up as you do. Take several deep breaths whenever you feel stressed out.
You can boost the benefits when you combine breathing with another relaxation technique.
Yoga blends deep breathing with stretching and strengthening poses. It also helps with stress and ongoing pain. One study even showed that yoga might calm inflammation, a key part of UC.
Meditation involves concentrating on your breath, a word, or an image to focus your mind and steer it away from stressful thoughts. Research shows that as little as 20 minutes of meditation a day can cut levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Walk It Off
When you work out, your body releases chemical messengers called endorphins, which make you feel good. Studies show that exercise can also lower stress and relieve some UC symptoms.
Depending on how severe your condition is, you may need to limit how much and how hard you exercise. Don't overdo it. Even a moderate 10-minute walk each day counts -- and you'll feel better for it.
Take a Time Out
Don’t forget to include some "me time" on your to-do list.
Take a few minutes to do something you really enjoy.
Listen to soothing music.
Read a book.
Spend some time in the garden.
Call an old friend.
See a movie.
Get a relaxing massage.
Run a warm bath and soak for 30 minutes.
Still Feeling Stressed Out?
Recognize when you need help and don't be afraid to ask for it. Take advantage of support when someone offers.
Call your doctor when symptoms are bothering you. You don't have to just live with them. You may be able to change the dose of your medication, get new drugs, or try other treatments.
Join a support group for people with UC. Talk about what's troubling you with others who understand your situation. The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America can help you find a support group in your area, or you can ask your doctor.
If you can't shake your worries or if you feel depressed or anxious, talk to your doctor. You may benefit from medicine and talk therapy.
Klecolt-Glaser, J. Psychosomatic Medicine, February 2010.
Alan C. Moss, MD, FACG, assistant professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School; director of translational research, Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston.
Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America: "About Ulcerative Colitis & Proctitis," “Managing Stress.”
Jennifer Robinson, MD on November 10, 2014