08. Mental Health Tips and Tricks with the CMHA – Gutsy Convos
It has been awhile since I last updated you all on my top tips for managing IBD and the symptoms that come with it. In the last 6 months, I have been in a flare with active disease in my lower colon and rectum. This has been challenging for me and has also brought with it some symptoms that I have not experienced since first being diagnosed in 2008. Before having surgery in 2018, I had a stricture and active disease in my ileum. This brought with it a lot of bloating, stomach distention, and muscle cramping. But now, I experience more urgency, muscle cramping and much less bloating. So, this has led me to revamp my IBD toolkit and I thought I would share that with you all today.
One of my favorite products for dealing with my Crohn’s symptoms is peppermint oil. I have been using peppermint oil to help manage my symptoms for over 5 years and it truly is a game changer. This is the first thing I recommend to anyone who is struggling with any bloating, stomach distention, or muscle spasms/cramping. I apply this directly to my stomach and it helps to calm down the muscles and provide a cooling and numbing sensation. My favorite version of peppermint oil is the Peppermint Halo roller ball from Saje Wellness. This is perfect because it is small and compact and easy to bring on-the-go.
An electric heating pad is another one of my my trusty pain management friends. I love to apply heat for any bloating or muscle cramping. But, more recently I have also been sitting on a heating pad to alleviate any pressure or pain in the base of my rectum. So, whether I am applying it to my stomach or sitting on it, I find this product to be really helpful to calm down any pain or inflammation. I personally love the Sunbeam electric heating pad that I found on amazon. It is inexpensive and provides consistent heat. It also has an automatic shut-off after two hours which is good for sleeping with, and it has 6 heat settings.
I am a big fan of meditation and mindset shifts to help you live your best life. So, I truly believe that mediation can have a big impact on your healing journey. When I was first diagnosed at the age of 11, my mom and I used a few natural healing techniques to help with my healing journey. This was done through mindful movement in the form of yoga, but also through breathing practices and healing meditation. There are plenty of healing mediation practices you can find online for free. They help to bring you back to your breath and focus your attention on sending love to the parts of your body that may be struggling and healing. This may sound a little woo-woo for you, but at the very least, mediation will help to calm your nervous system and focus your attention to your breath. I love to use the Simple Habit meditation app for my meditations, but there are plenty of good ones to choose from on Youtube for free.
Along with mediation I believe it is important to have some breathing exercises in your toolkit to help you manage stress and pain in your body. Stress and anxiety can be detrimental to our body and this can also lead to flares for people with chronic health conditions. So, I try to use some breathing techniques to work through bad stomach pain, but also to help with anxiety and relaxation. Some of my favorite breathing techniques include:
- 4-7-8 Breathing: This breathing technique was developed by Dr. Andrew Well. This is meant to boost oxygen in the body and calm the body. To perform this exercise begin by finding a comfortable position. Start by inhaling through your nose for the count of 4, hold for the count of 7, and exhale through your mouth for the count of 8. Repeat this cycle 5-8 times.
- Descending Breathing: This breathing technique is one I use a lot at night when falling asleep to calm the mind and focus my attention on my counting. To begin inhale for the count of 5, exhale to the count of 5, inhale to the count of 4, exhale to the count of 4, continue this until you get to 1. Once you reach one, return to 5 and repeat the cycle for 5-8 rounds.
- Alternate Nostril Breathing: This breathing technique is perfect for relaxation and promoting calm. To begin find a comfortable position. After an exhale, use your right thumb to gently close your right nostril. Inhale through your left nostril and then close your left nostril with your right pinky and ring fingers. Release your thumb and exhale out through your right nostril. Inhale through your right nostril and then close this nostril. Release your fingers to open your left nostril and exhale through this side. Continue this cycle 5-8 times, being sure to end with your last exhale on your left side.
- Lions Breath: This breathing technique is perfect to stir up your energy and get rid of any unwanted negativity. Come into a comfortable seated position. You can sit back on your heels or cross your legs. Press your palms against your knees with your fingers spread wide. Inhale deeply through your nose and open your eyes wide. At the same time, open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue, bringing the tip down toward your chin. Exhale out through your mouth by making a long “ha” sound. Repeat this cycle 2-5 times to cleanse the body.
Food plays a vital role on our body and this holds especially true for people with IBD. So, I try my best to have a clean diet as much as possible and be mindful of how food makes me feel. Eating can be challenging for people with IBD. What do I eat? What do I avoid? Did this food upset me or was it the other? More fiber, less fiber? These are all questions that pop through our head. So, I feel you on your struggle.
But, one thing that I consistently go back to is the idea of just eating clean. I have to be careful about the types of food I consume. I try not to have too much raw fruits and vegetables, especially while I am flaring, because they can be hard to digest. So, I get creative and opt for clean eating through smoothies and smoothie bowls, by cooking fruits and vegetables, and by overall enjoying a balanced diet. I like to have grains, fruits, vegetables, meats, and some legumes based on how I am feeling. This works for me and so I continue to do it. I have experimented (and am doing so again) with how dairy and gluten feels in my body. So, I will see how that goes. But, overall it is important to be aware and do what works for YOU.
If you have not done an elimination diet before I highly recommend you do one. This is a lengthy process but definitely worth doing to determine your trigger foods. Be sure to consult with a doctor before doing so and make sure you are supplementing properly where needed.
There are many great teas that I like to enjoy to calm my mind and body. I particularly enjoy peppermint, lavender, chamomile, or turmeric. One tip for anyone who suffers with acid reflux as I do, try drinking licorice tea instead of peppermint tea. Peppermint tea, although good to sooth the stomach, does make acid reflux symptoms worse. However, licorice will aid in relaxing the stomach while also soothing acid reflux symptoms.
Support is very important for people living with a chronic condition. So, I encourage you to surround yourself with people who support you and bring you up. This could include family, friends, your local Crohn’s and Colitis chapter members, or an online community of people. I am always blown away by the support that I have from my community online as well as in person. My parents, boyfriend, and close friends are truly so supportive of my condition and always try to do their best to help me. If you don’t have a great support system around you, try to seek one out by connecting with others online or through local organizations. If you are in Canada and have IBD I highly suggest getting involved with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada and your local chapter.
Those are my top tips for managing IBD and my life with Crohn’s disease. I hope that you found it helpful and learned something new that you can apply in your life. If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the post I did on 6 natural approaches for my pain management.
QUESTION: HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR CHRONIC ILLNESS SYMPTOMS?
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Your trusty, gutsy gal,