One of the scariest and most daunting parts of Crohn’s disease or any chronic illness for that matter is the wonder and curiosity of when it’s going to strike next. Even if it’s been months or years since a hospitalization or flare, not a day goes by that you don’t wonder…when is the next time going to be? Each time I’ve been hospitalized in the past 11 years I have felt completely fine in the morning—and then something changes. A few hospitalizations really stick out in my mind because of how abruptly my day and life changed.
The first was in May 2009. I anchored the morning news on Wake Up Wisconsin and felt great, had a first date planned in the evening and was getting ready for it. What seemed like a happy, carefree day—turned into a nightmare in a matter of moments. The crushing, debilitating stomach pains started out of nowhere, I was vomiting from the pain…and before I knew it, hospitalized. The guy I was supposed to go on a date with laughed and thought it was all an excuse not to see him.
Another instance that sticks out in my mind—I was training for my second half marathon in February 2014, anchored the morning news in Springfield, ran 9 miles and was heading to St. Louis after my run to see my boyfriend (now husband). While I was driving to St. Louis those all too familiar pains began…later that night I was hospitalized with a bowel obstruction.
That’s how quickly it happens. The disease doesn’t care if you have plans. The disease is a mysterious beast that chooses to rear its ugly head without any notice. But, the magic happens when you find a way to manage stress so it doesn’t lead you to a vicious cycle of flare ups. This can be easier said than done, but there are ways to manage the day-to-day and be mindful of your thought process and your body.
Many time people with Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis have what’s called “psychophysical vulnerability.” Meaning that stress, emotional health and poor coping strategies can impact how one’s disease progresses and hinder quality of life. While it’s imperative to follow a diet, exercise and treatment plan that you respond best to, it’s also important to focus on the emotional and cognitive impact the illness has on you.
- Breathe deeply: Breathing out for five seconds and in for five seconds helps to slow you down and create a sense of calm. Do this as many times as you need to feel relaxed. Be mindful of your breath as it enters and exits through your nose.
- Focus on the now and not the what if: There’s no sense in worrying about your next hospital stay—have confidence in the fact that with each flare up and rough day that has happened through your disease process there has been a beginning and an end. Deal with it when it happens—don’t waste time living in a state of fear. You’ve beat it before and you’ll beat it again.
- Confide in a family member or friend: Share your struggles and worries, don’t keep them bottled up in side. If you don’t communicate with your support network they won’t know you need help. Always share your feelings, don’t hesitate or feel like you need to deal with this alone.
Overall, place emphasis on the “relaxation response”—a physiologic state of deep rest induced by mediation, yoga and prayer—in doing so you not only alleviate stress and anxiety, but also help to keep the disease process in check.
Finding the mind-body techniques that help you fight the fatigue, stress and chronic pain of Crohn’s diseases can be the best recipe for getting the symptom relief you’re looking for. If you’re mentally strong, you’ll be much better equipped to endure the days that hurt you on a physical level.