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Crohn’s Disease: Six Tips for Managing Stress During the Holidays

Crohn’s Disease: Six Tips for Managing Stress During the Holidays

Heather Hausenblas, Ph.D.

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The inflammation can come and go and people can experience periods of remission. But even with treatment, you’re likely to experience flare-ups. Sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint a cause, but studies have shown that stress can be a leading factor.

Living with any chronic illness can be stressful and overwhelming, but it can become debilitating over the holidays with the added stress of family gatherings, big meals, and disrupted schedules.

Consider some of the following tips to help reduce stress and minimize flare-ups this holiday season.

Get up and move. Regular physical activity can make you feel happier, sleep better, manage weight, and can minimize your Crohn’s disease symptoms too. No exercise routine is a magic cure, but exercise has been shown to relieve symptoms by reducing stress levels. Exercise can also help reduce feelings of depression which can be a common complication of Crohn’s. 

Walk around the neighborhood and take in the holiday decorations. Dance with friends to your favorite holiday songs. Or, try an app like OpenFit which is great for beginner workouts. 7 Minute Workout is another app that will get you moving right away with its quick, no-brainer HIIT sequences. You’ll be Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree in no time.

Yoga for digestive flow. Yoga isn’t all about twisting yourself into a pretzel. It can actually help to reduce stress, bloating, and aid in digestion and detox after those heavy holiday meals. Yoga with Adriene is perfect for stress (and waist) reduction. Adriene shares hundreds of free yoga videos to get you - and your digestive tract - back on track. 

Go easy on the Eggnog. The holidays and alcoholic beverages like mulled cider, champagne and eggnog go hand-in-hand. Alcohol can be a social ice-breaker and may seem to temporarily provide some feelings of relaxation, but alcohol and drinks with caffeine and carbonation can be very irritating to someone with Crohn’s disease. Alcohol can also interact with certain medications, so it’s important to discuss this with your healthcare team. 

Don’t overindulge at mealtime. Turkey is to Thanksgiving like Latkes are to Hanukkah and sugar cookies are to Christmas. Holidays are a time to celebrate and share bountiful feasts with our family and friends. But some foods can spell trouble for someone with Crohn’s disease. Stay away from refined sugar and processed foods, and instead reach for whole foods.

Consider bringing a Crohn’s friendly dish to share at the table. If you are not hosting, this will guarantee that you can still indulge in some meat, bread and your yummy side. Eating smaller portions will also make it easier for your body to tolerate and digest your meal.

Take notes. Journaling is a positive way to reduce stress and improve mental and emotional well-being. Keeping track of thoughts, feelings and experiences can provide clarity and can help boost physical health. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) found that patients struggling with a chronic illness who kept a journal about their thoughts experienced fewer physical symptoms than patients who did not journal.

Get some zzz’s. Sleep and stress both influence our whole-body health. The stress of the holidays and managing Crohn’s can take its toll. This coupled with lack of sleep can quickly take the joy out of the season. Sleep can be hard to come by during the holidays. You may be traveling and attempting to rest in an unfamiliar place. Thoughts of buying gifts for everyone on your list - and the bills that will follow - can be a bit of a nightmare. Late-night gatherings can throw any sleep routine into a tailspin. Proper rest is critical when attempting to manage stress.

Try to optimize your sleep environment. If traveling, bring your pillow or favorite blanket. Keep the room at a cool 65°. Your body’s temperature decreases during sleep and a cool room will help you fall (and stay) asleep throughout the night. Don’t talk money or anything controversial before bed. The idea is to relax your way to sleep.

Managing stress is key if you have Crohn’s. Stress does not cause Crohn’s, but it can contribute to flare-ups and relapse. Keeping stress in check is one way to help minimize the impact Crohn’s has on your life.

The material provided is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to replace the diagnosis or treatment by a qualified healthcare professional. You should always seek medical advice before consuming any new medicines or supplements.

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