For many people, myself included, stress can be a trigger for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) flare-ups. Highlighting this point, an article in Scientific American published earlier this month, illustrates how psychological stress can cause an inflammatory response and impaired food movement in the gut. The author, Josh Fischman, a senior editor at Scientific American, noted that, “scientists have traced two detailed molecular pathways from the brain to the gut that produce IBD flares. And in three different groups of IBD patients, they found that psychological stress—a death in the family or a bad fight with a loved one, for instance—can trigger the release of brain chemicals that cause IBD symptoms.”
The article further emphasizes that IBD is not all in the head, but “it does mean psychotherapy and targeted stress-management techniques have important—and until now underappreciated—roles to play in preventing and treating agonizing flares.”
I’ve struggled with managing stress for many years—bottling up the majority of my frustrations and embodying a people-pleasing persona at work and everywhere else I went. In the early years of my diagnosis, back in my twenties, my mom was always worried about my stress levels and gently encouraged me to find a healthier work-life balance. But it took more than two decades for me to finally hit that goal.
While I couldn’t ever figure out how to reduce stress at work (at least, not until this year when I quit my job in educational marketing and finally pursued a new career path that centers on my passions and feeds my soul), over the past few years, I put significant energy into finding ways to reduce my stress levels outside of work and sought ways to make peace with the stress at work.
That was how my meditation and mindset journey began.
I’ve made a conscious effort over past few years to practice deep breathing, to sit with my thoughts and emotions, to be present in the moment and recognize my emotions (or immediately after), and to let go of the stress I felt at work. I sought out activities I was (and still am) passionate about and filled me with joy. It wasn’t always easy and there were plenty of times I still felt overwhelmed with stress, but the practices made it easier to get through the hard times and gave me perspective. I could step back more easily and see the big picture, not just the moment I was caught up in.
My quest to reduce stress was also what led me to streamlining and reducing the number of hobbies I have. There are only so many hours in a day and only a limited amount of time I can devote to things. But it wasn’t until I accepted that fact and made peace with it, that I could let go of things and not feel like I was somehow letting myself or others down. (Who cares if that blanket I started crocheting never got finished, I let that go in order to make space for other things that fueled me…like my podcast!)
Another small change I made was changing my vocabulary from saying to myself “I need to do X, Y, Z” to “I want to do X, Y, Z.” There were so many self-inflicted obligations I put on myself that weren’t actually obligations at all, and only added to the stress and pressure I felt.
So, today, I invite you to give yourself grace and a little more breathing room. Implement the small things that can help you to reframe your mindset, allow you to let go of what’s not urgent or even necessary at all, and help to reduce the stress you feel in your life. Is reducing stress the magic pill to everything? No, but it’s never just one thing that gets us where we are in life. So let stress reduction play a role in your own quest for better health and take a moment to stop and smell the roses. Life is short, enjoy it.
Be strong, be grateful, and keep going!