Whether it feels like a bus just squashed us flat or we have that sudden urge to defecate with no end in sight, we all know that feeling when a flare is imminent. And while it is no fun, it is a part of living and breathing with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). So how do we manage flares? And more importantly, how do we to cope with them to live the fullest life possible?
We all know flare-ups are unapologetically anxiety-producing. But staying in those thoughts may cause us to flounder. Overanalyzing and blaming ourselves for a flare, or even for our diseases, is unfair, unreasonable, and counterproductive. IBD has a mind of its own, and it isn’t something we can control. Medication and surgery, as advanced as they are, aren’t perfect and neither are we.
So, if we indulged in a spicy meal or partied too hard last night and are now feeling it, that’s a learning lesson for the future, not grounds to beat ourselves up over what we should have done in retrospect. Although flares feel like the end of the world in the moment, life does eventually go on. What’s most important is to recognize our limits and live with them as best as we can.
I’ve noticed that so much of IBD is emotional. Gut, an official journal of the British Society of Gastroenterology, stated in 2005 that, “Psychological stress has long been reported anecdotally to increase disease activity in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and recent well-designed studies have confirmed that adverse life events, chronic stress, and depression increase the likelihood of relapse in patients with quiescent IBD.”
So, stress and anxiety levels may contribute to our already precarious health situations; if we can find ways to keep a lid on them, perhaps we can help our cause. For me, it’s important to identify when something is stressful or anxiety-producing and find ways to either manage the situation or remove myself from it entirely.
Finding a balance is key when trying to deal with flares. Bringing our minds back to managing the situation at hand is vital in times when our disease-related anxiety is prone to running wild. Some tips to consider when in a flare:
1. Contact your gastroenterologist. I prefer to give my body 24 hours to settle on its own before contacting my doctor. However, if it is an emergency, seek medical attention right away. We know our bodies best, so we should act accordingly.
2. Ask for medicinal relief. Use what helps manage the pain. If Tylenol or Advil help (and don’t upset your stomach), they may be good options. I find topical options comforting: Suppositories, enemas, Lidocaine patches, and sitz baths may alleviate pain, and with it, disease-related anxiety.
3. Get plenty of rest, hydrate, and eat properly. Sleep is one of the greatest healers. It’s important during flares to say no to previous commitments and take care of ourselves first. Maintain fluid intake (juicing/drinking smoothies) and eat foods/follow certain diets to a level of tolerance (soups, etc.). Doing this while avoiding triggering foods are an important aspect of managing the disease.
4. Relax and do enjoyable activities. Meditate and use this time to be with ourselves away from the stressors of the world. Read fun books and watch TV to distract ourselves from the pain and uncertainty of a flare-up. Go for short walks or sit outside to get fresh air, sunlight, and vitamin D. If accidents are an issue, try wearing a diaper or a pad. If you can’t go out for very long, talking on the phone or emailing are good ways to keep in touch. I sometimes have friends over to watch a movie or play board games.
All in all, it is important that we try to live our lives in a way tailored to match the status of our health. When we are well, we can do more of the activities we enjoy, and when we aren’t doing so well, we need to adjust our expectations.
At the end of the day, managing flare-ups, and our diseases in general, is a daily part of living with a chronic illness. Medication, diet, and lifestyle are all part and parcel of living with IBD. It is healthy to seek ways to manage them effectively to ultimately lead a fuller life.
So, own your Crohn’s, own your IBD. If we let these diseases control our lives and our minds, they will take over. So why not tear up our flare-up by handling our care like a boss?
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