3 Steps for Treating IBS, Crohn's and Colitis

Written by Natalie Shay on Wednesday, September 05 2012

Q: I have Crohn’s and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and I do not know how to manage my symptoms. Could stress be as big of a factor as I have heard?

Working with stress management over the years has introduced me to hundreds of clients with Crohn’s, Colitis and IBS. Clients have come to me to learn how to alleviate their physical symptoms and the stress they cause.

The symptoms of these diseases can be debilitating, and they include abdominal pain, diarrhea, depression, fatigue, anxiety, bloating, and difficulty having bowel movements. Many people do not realize that these symptoms can be drastically reduced with stress-reduction techniques. When Amy first came to see me, she was symptomatic seven-fourteen times a week and was nervous about leaving her house. She learned new techniques to identify what triggers her symptoms and what changes she needed to implement. After four months of working together, she now says: “Working with you has been extremely advantageous. I am able to leave my house without fear that I will need to run to the washroom. I have my freedom back. I understand myself better and can now see that stress played such a big role in this. Thank you for taking the time to teach me about how stress affects my health.” Amy F.


Here are three steps that can help you begin to manage the symptoms.

Step 1: Pay attention to yourself

Start tracking your symptoms for a month and try to identify how they are related to stress. You may experience symptoms before or during the stressful event, and especially afterwards, when your body is finally able to relax.

Step 2: Breathe

A simple way to start incorporating breathing techniques into your life is to start with 30 breaths a day. The key to effective breathing is to breathe using your diaphragm and inhale deeply with a four-second count, then exhale with another four-second count. When we are stressed, we tend to hold our breath, and when we breathe deeply, we begin to reduce our stress.

Step 3: Learn to use your voice effectively


One of the most important ways to manage your symptoms is to start looking at how much you internalize your feelings. If you find that you do not express yourself when something bothers you, it may be helpful to start changing this pattern. Changing the way you express your feelings can be done simply by implementing the WIN formula. This stands for “When (you did this), I (felt this) and Need (you to do this).”

For example, let’s say you had plans with a friend and they cancelled on you at the last minute. If you are non-confrontational, you are likely to tell your friend that the cancellation isn’t a problem. This reaction causes you to hold all your frustration and anger inside. Instead, a positive approach to this situation is to call the friend up and say: “When you cancelled on me, I was really upset that you did not give me more notice, and I would appreciate it if you could let me know ahead of time in the future.”


People who do not confront others tend to not realize how much their passivity can impact their health, but time and time again I see the difference it makes.

Natalie Shay is a Psychotherapist and Stress Management Counsellor. She works with individuals and consults with organizations with respect to topics such as stress management, burn-out prevention, work/life balance and emotional eating. She works with clients to help them overcome ineffective habits and create healthier new ones. Natalie can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or (416) 726-5631.

 

Five Ways to Prevent Parent Burnout

Written by Natalie Shay on Wednesday, August 22 2012

It’s challenging to make time for yourself when you have kids. We get so lost with work—and yes, that includes being a full-time mom—that by the time we get some time to ourselves, we have no energy left to do anything with it. When Jocelyn first called me, she was burnt out and felt like a terrible mother. She felt herself snapping at her children over the smallest things. After working with her for six months, she feels like a person again. “You showed me how to be the best parent I can be! I no longer yell at my kids because I am frustrated, and we are all so much happier.” Jocelyn S.

Think of it this way. When we get on an airplane, we are told that, in case of emergency, we should put our own oxygen mask on before helping our children with theirs. And the reason is simple: we have to make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves so we can be the best parent we can be. And to do that, we have to remember that we have a responsibility not only to our children, partner, and job, but also to ourselves. Here are 5 steps to start putting on your oxygen mask first.

Step 1: Write out 10 things
Write out a list of 10 things that you’d like to do for yourself. Even if some of those things sound impossible, write them down. You haven’t seen one of your closest friends for over a month? Write it down. You could really use a massage? Write that down too. You’ve been thinking about taking a pottery or creative-writing class? Yes, add it too!

Step 2: Look at your list and pick one thing that isn’t too daunting
If you start thinking of all the obstacles preventing you form doing any of the things on your list, you’re going to get overwhelmed. So just pick one and move to step 3.

Step 3: Break that one task down into smaller tasks
For example, if you want to start working out, don’t research gyms, join a gym, buy workout clothes and work out all in one week. Start off with one of these tasks over the next week.

Step 4: Use your family and friends

I know how hard it is to accept help. When I first had my son, I refused to let people help me unless I had an appointment I had to go to, but the more help I got the easier it became to ask for help, and I became a much better mother because of it.

Step 5: Two hours a week
This project is supposed to add to your well-being, not take over your life. Commit to two hours a week for yourself. Book the time in your calendar like an appointment. So if you’ve decided to start working out, don’t commit to exercising every day. Start with twice a week for even half an hour at a time and make it a habit. If you’ve decided to make more time for friends, do that once a week for two hours. It will rejuvenate you.

A happier parent = a happier child. Try it, and you’ll notice how much happier everyone is.

Natalie Shay is a Psychotherapist and Stress Management Counsellor. She works with individuals and consults with organizations with respect to topics such as stress management, burn-out prevention, work/life balance and emotional eating. She works with clients to help them overcome ineffective habits and create healthier new ones. Natalie can be reached directly at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or (416) 726-5631.

 

Three Ways To Outsmart Your To-Do List

Written by Natalie Shay on Tuesday, July 03 2012

Q : My to-do list is piling up on me, and my motivation to tackle it is disappearing. Are there any stress-management techniques that can help me stay motivated?

A: You started a to-do list because you thought it would help you get your stuff done, but that list has gotten so long that it seems hopeless to even try. Sound familiar?

To-do lists are great and help people stay focused. I always recommend them to my clients. But they can also be stressful, especially if you have a lot on them and don’t know where to begin. It will be useful to keep two lists - one with weekly tasks and another with monthly tasks. Here are three things to consider.

1. Are you being a perfectionist?

Perfectionism tends to stop people from doing what they have to do. A sign that you may be a covert perfectionist is that your fear of failure is so strong that you avoid doing the task at all.

See if you can pass off any tasks to a partner, relative or coworker. Most people don’t delegate because they think it is easier to do the task themselves. It may be easier in the moment, but over time you are setting yourself up for failure. If you are used to doing everything yourself, then take baby steps. Ask somebody to do something small. For example, ask your partner to pick up an ingredient for dinner or pay a bill. It may seem silly, but it will help you let go of your need to do everything yourself.

2. Is your to-do list unrealistic?

Are you expecting yourself to work full time, go grocery shopping, pick up dry-cleaning, make dinner, and pick up a gift for a party on the weekend?

Take your to-do list and write the length of time it will take to do each task. Overestimate rather than underestimate the time. You know you can’t do a week’s groceries in 20 minutes. You think you can do them in 45? Write one hour. The worst-case scenario is that you have extra time. It is worse for your mind and body to be running from one task to another without having enough time to do everything: this increases your cortisol levels and takes a toll on your body.

After this step, decide which tasks need to be done this week and which can be done this month. Then put the tasks in your calendar with the length of time it will take to do each one so you can be realistic. Make sure you do not fill up every day in your calendar: leave yourself time to relax and have a life.

3. Is the task so big that you’ll never get it done? Will it take you six long hours to complete that report?

If you think of your task in these terms, you won’t be motivated to work on it. It helps to break daunting tasks down into smaller steps. Say your report requires you to do research, speak with clients, look at past sales and present your conclusions. Break the one large task into these smaller tasks, and give yourself a mental checkmark for every one you complete. You will be well on your way to taking control of your to do list, instead of the other way around.


Natalie Shay is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach specializing in stress management and emotional eating since 2006. She coaches individuals and consults with organizations with respect to such topics as stress management, preventing burn-out, achieving work/life balance and learning how to stop eating with emotions. Her purpose is to work with clients to help them uncover ineffective habits and create new healthier ones. Natalie can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

 

Five Tips to Combat Stress Before Bed

Written by Natalie Shay on Tuesday, June 12 2012

Q: When I feel stressed, I have difficulty falling asleep. How do I combat the stress?

A: Trying to fall asleep when we are stressed is next to impossible: our minds are racing, our adrenaline is pumping, and our body is ready to tackle the world. Of course, bed time is the worst time to be having these thoughts because we need our sleep to help us function the next day. Here are 5 simple techniques to start teaching our bodies to relax and get ready for a good night’s sleep.

Step 1
Keep a piece of paper and pen beside your bed, and when those racing thoughts refuse to leave your mind, write them down. I am always asked what the benefit of this strategy is, and the answer is easy. Getting it out on paper stops the thought from racing in your mind like a hamster on a wheel. This process slows down your hamster and allows your body to start relaxing. Try it for a week. Write down your fears, worries or whatever stress is keeping you up at night.

Step 2
Do something relaxing before you get to bed. This means no working or answering emails for at least an hour before bedtime. Create a list of activities you enjoy and find relaxing, and then pick something off it each night before bed. One possibility is taking a bath with some good-quality essential oils. I love Pure and Simple’s Lavender essential oil; it’s a great product. Another one is taking the dog around the block if the weather is nice out.

Step 3
Turn off the TV and put the book away when you are in bed. Make sure the room is pitch black. I would recommend investing in blackout blinds. They can be expensive, but you can find portable ones made for kids that cost around $60-$80. I have used a product called Gro Anyhwere Blinds in my bedroom when I have needed a good night’s sleep and didn’t want the sun to wake me.


Step 4
Try some breathing exercises. You can listen to a breathing exercise on your mp3 player as you fall asleep. There are tons on the market, but you can try a free one on elibay.com. Alternatively, you can just try three sets of 10 deep breaths: as you are breathing, say “inhale” and “exhale” to yourself. You may also want to add a drop of the lavender essential oil to help your body calm itself.

Step 5

You can try some homeopathic stress relievers. These are non-habit forming and can help relax your body and slow down your mind. Some great products are Nerve Tonic by Hyland’s and Pascoe Calm by Pascoe Canada.

Just remember to be patient with yourself: your body needs time to form new habits and this doesn’t happen overnight.

Natalie Shay is a Psychotherapist and Stress Management Counselor. She coaches individuals and consults with organizations with respect to topics such as stress management, burn-out prevention, work/life balance and emotional eating. She works with clients to help them overcome ineffective habits and create healthier new ones. Natalie can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . For daily tips follow her on Twitter @destresstoday
 

 

Positive Thinking and Stress

Written by Natalie Shay on Monday, May 21 2012

People always ask what the "real” connection is between positive thinking and stress. However, many do not realize that high blood pressure, panic attacks, anxiety, and many other health conditions start off with negative self talk. It has been shown through studies that an average person will have 10-15 negative statements repeating in their mind. For example, negative self talk such as “I should have gone grocery shopping today. I’m such an idiot ", could positively be turned into "I did not have time to go grocery shopping today, hopefully I will have time to go tomorrow” . When we use the word “should” , we are blaming ourselves. Alternative statements without the use of the word “should”, help create a positive chemical reaction in the brain.

Another example of negative self talk is over generalizing. You could be at a wedding and have someone insult your attire, so you assume that anyone who sees your attire will feel the same way. You do not have to attribute this sentiment and over generalize. It is one person’s opinion, not everyone at the wedding. The best way to start changing this behaviour is to notice what you consciously say to yourself. Carry a small note pad with you for a week and write down whenever you catch yourself saying something negative. There are 10 common categories of negative thought processes. For a full list of these categories, feel free to email me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 


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