What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and its symptoms?
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a gastrointestinal disorder that is caused by chronic inflammation that leads to damage in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Simply put, IBD is a disease that causes discomfort because of inflammation. There are two main types of inflammatory bowel disease: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
If you or a loved one is living with IBD, you know that there is nothing “short” about this difficult chronic disease.
Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) each have their own variations of complexities. While there are differences between the two, on the surface they may present similarly.
For example, both conditions can present with:
- Diarrhea and/or constipation and/or bloody stools and rectal bleeding
- Sudden urges to have a bowel movement
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Unintended weight loss and feeling tired
- Loss of appetite and nausea
The most notable difference between Crohn’s and UC is that UC only affects the colon, not the entire GI tract. In contrast, Crohn’s isn’t limited to the colon and can affect any part of the GI tract – from mouth to anus. They also each have their own unique sets of complications which can range in severity and treatment options.
We are not sure what causes IBD.
We know that it’s caused by an immune system responding in “overdrive” to things that may not be precarious to us. There is also a genetic component to IBD. It tends to run in families, although that may not always be the case.
IBD is often an invisible illness that is hard to explain.
Whether you already have a diagnosis or are just exploring your symptoms, it is still an illness that affects you physically as well as mentally. Being diagnosed with any illness or simply feeling terrible all the time with no explanation is mentally draining.
How are IBD and anxiety/stress linked?
While anxiety does not cause IBD, it can, and often does, exacerbate symptoms. Living with IBD can cause you to experience a substantial amount of anxiety as you deal with the challenges of needing a support system.
If you are living with IBD, you are more than likely juggling a number of factors that all need your attention, and which also may be causing you anxiety and stress:
- Managing various levels of medical and medication management
- Choosing whether or not to disclose to people at work, friends or new relationships
- Dealing with various stages of disease acceptance
- Changes in lifestyle, physical activity, nutrition or management of health can also bring about feelings of depression, frustration or confusion
All of these new challenges can cause anxiety, which may in turn impact symptoms.
IBD is a family affair.
IBD is often referred to as an “invisible illness” because the symptoms are often “internal.” Therefore, it’s not always as obvious to our friends and family. As much as they try to help, our family doesn’t always “get it,” and can often invalidate your feelings in an effort to make you feel better.
Trying to navigate the different areas that need to be addressed while also managing your own expectations for yourself, as well as what you feel might be expectations of others from you can sometimes be accompanied by feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
Mental Health and IBD
When dealing with a chronic illness like IBD, taking care of your mental well-being is as important as taking care of your physical well-being. Working with a therapist who understands your situation can help you to:
- Learn the necessary tools to manage your anxiety and depression symptoms
- Figure out the areas in your life where you will need to make changes
- Learn to confidently advocate for yourself
- Feel empowered to know that while your IBD is a part of you, it does not define you
How can therapy help to cope with IBD?
Therapy provides a safe, supportive, and confidential space for you to work towards your goals with a therapist who gets it. Our therapists have experience in working with the nuances of chronic illness. They are able to be both an emotional support to you, while also teaching you Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) based techniques to help you redefine how chronic illness shows up in your life.
You will also have the space to speak freely about yourself. You can share your unique story and build a therapeutic relationship where you will learn effective strategies to improve your quality of life. With support and guidance, you can learn how to better manage your life stressors and alleviate some triggers of your IBD.
If you feel like you are having trouble managing the stress or emotions surrounding your life with IBD, reach out to us.
About the author(s)
Karen is the founder and Clinical Director of Cohesive Therapy NYC. She earned a Masters in Social Work from New York University and has extensive training in Hypnosis, Anxiety, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Brainspotting, and DGBI. She is a member of the Institute of Certified Anxiety Treatment Professionals, The Rome Foundation, the National Association of Social Workers, The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, and the American Social of Clinical Hypnosis.