Inflammatory Bowel Disease
What is IBD and what are the symptoms?
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a gastrointestinal disorder caused by chronic inflammation that leads to damage in the Gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
There are two types of IBD: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC), and each has its 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 and not the entire GI tract. In contrast, Crohn’s is not limited to the large intestine (colon) and can affect any part of the GI tract, from the mouth to the 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, but we do know that it is caused by an immune system that is responding in “overdrive” to things that may not be necessarily precarious to our system. There is also a genetic component to IBD, as it tends to run in families, although that may not always be the case.
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, managing various levels of healthcare, disclosing (or not disclosing) to those around you and dealing with various stages of disease acceptance. All of these new challenges can cause anxiety, which may in turn impact symptoms.
The changes in life style, physical activity, nutrition or overall changes in the management of your health can also bring about feelings of depression. IBD is often referred to as an “invisible illness” because the symptoms are often “internal” and therefore, not always as obvious to our friends and family. 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.
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?
Dealing with IBD can be incredibly stressful, anxiety-producing, frustrating or can even bring about depressive symptoms. If you feel like you are having trouble managing the stress or emotions surrounding your life with IBD, it may be helpful to reach out to a licensed mental health professional.
Therapy provides a safe, supportive, and confidential space for you to work towards your goals with a professional. Our practice draws from experience in working with people who have a chronic illness to help you identify ways to navigate seemingly on-going health challenges. You will have the chance to speak freely about yourself, share your life story and build a therapeutic relationship where you will learn effective strategies to improve your quality of life.
If you feel that your IBD diagnosis or symptoms are causing you to experience anxiety, depression, isolation, or eating difficulties, a licensed therapist that has experience in digestive disorders can help. With support and guidance, you can learn how to better manage your life stressors and alleviate some triggers of your IBD.