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
or (416) 726-5631.