Stress doesn't cause ulcerative colitis (UC), but if it spirals out of control, it can make your symptoms worse.
So make it a priority to notice and manage the things that get to you. Take a good look at how you respond. Then use these simple tips to tap into relaxation and relief.
1. Just Breathe
Inhale, exhale. You do it 24-7, usually without noticing it at all. Take a moment to tune in to your breathing. It's an easy, do-it-anywhere way to soothe your body and mind.
Take a slow, deep breath, filling your lungs with air. Then let it out slowly and fully, feeling your muscles loosen up as you do. Take several deep breaths whenever you feel stressed out. Deep breathing not only relaxes your mind, but it also sends more blood flowing through your body.
You can boost the benefits when you combine breathing with another relaxation technique, such as yoga or meditation.
Yoga blends deep breathing with stretching and strengthening poses. It can help you manage stress and ongoing pain. One study even shows that yoga might calm inflammation, a key part of UC.
Meditation involves observing your breath, or focusing on a word or an image in your mind. Other thoughts will come up. That's fine, and normal! Try to let those distractions float by without chasing or judging them.
Research shows that as little as 20 minutes of meditation a day can cut levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Try 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes before you go to bed.
2. Walk It Off
When you work out, your body releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins. 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.
3. Take a Timeout
Include some "me time" on your to-do list. Take a few minutes to do something you really enjoy. Some ideas:
- Listen to your favorite music.
- Read a book.
- Spend some time in a park or your garden.
- Call a good friend.
- Take a yoga class.
- Try a new recipe.
- Use a foam roller or a tennis ball to unknot tense muscles.
- Take a warm shower or bath.
4. Still Feeling Stressed Out?
Recognize when you need help and ask for it. When people offer to pitch in, take them up on it.
If your symptoms bother you, call your doctor. They can check to see if your treatment plan is on track or if it needs changes.
Join a support group for people with UC. Talk about what you're going through with others who understand your situation. The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America can help you find one 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 or a counselor. Even a few sessions can help you know what changes to make and whether you might benefit from medicine, so you feel more like yourself again.
Klecolt-Glaser, J. Psychosomatic Medicine, February 2010.
Alan C. Moss, MD, 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."