Last Updated on July 2, 2023 by Steven Root
Crohn’s Disease Self-Care: Your Guide To Better Living
Living with Crohn’s disease, and more importantly, living well, requires more than medication. A comprehensive Crohn’s disease self-care plan is a must to reduce symptoms and enhance your quality of life.
In this guide, we will delve deeper into:
- The importance of diet for Crohn’s
- Stress reduction techniques for Crohn’s
- The benefits of exercise & what you should do
- Why sleep and rest are big factors
- The importance of staying social
- Using medication
Overview of Crohn’s Disease Self-Care
Here’s a high level view of the important areas that we’ll unpack in this article:
Diet: Your First Line of Defense
When it comes to Crohn’s disease, diet is your first line of defense. Whilst data is scarce on on IBD diets, there are studies like this that exist as well plentiful anecdotes from sufferers pointing out the obvious link between dietary choices and IBD symptoms.
Healthy dietary habits can help manage symptoms and prevent flare-ups. High-quality, nutrient-dense whole foods like beef, chicken, fish, fruits, and vegetables should form the centerpiece of your diet.
However, everyone with Crohn’s disease is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. Some people may find that certain foods trigger their symptoms. Common triggers include dairy products, gluten and other lectins, highly processed foods, spicy foods, alcohol, high sugar foods, high-fiber foods, and high fat foods.
Keeping a food diary can help you identify your triggers and avoid them.
Seeking specialist guidance (which you can do here) can be very beneficial. We have had great success helping clients to understand their nutritional needs and create a personalized diet plan that improves and often eliminates their symptoms.
It’s not about restricting your diet; it’s about finding the right balance of foods that make you feel your best.
Stress Reduction: The Key to Symptom Management
Crohn’s disease and stress often create a vicious cycle. Stress can exacerbate Crohn’s symptoms (source), and the challenges of living with Crohn’s can, in turn, exacerbate stress. Breaking this cycle is key.
Letting Go by David Hawkins is an excellent resource that we point many of our clients towards. It is a book that provides a simple mechanism for releasing negative emotions. By releasing the fear and anger the at underpin a lot of our negative thinking, we can reduce our stress and our inflammation.
Speaking to a therapist can also be very helpful. In our opinion, perhaps the most useful part of speaking to a therapist is not the intellectualization into the why’s of your behavior, though. It is the power of releasing your negative emotions in a safe environment. As with Letting Go, less fear/anger/bitterness = less stress, and less inflammation.
Mindfulness and meditation are powerful tools for reducing stress. They bring your attention to the present moment, helping to reduce feelings of anxiety and unease. Regular practice can create a sense of calm and control over your mental and emotional state.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is another effective approach to stress management. It’s a psychological approach that helps you to understand and change thought patterns that lead to harmful behaviors or negative feelings. CBT can provide practical techniques for coping with stress, helping you manage Crohn’s symptoms more effectively.
Relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or yoga, can also be beneficial. These practices can lower the body’s stress response and promote a state of relaxation and well-being.
Exercise: An Incredible Tool
Regular physical activity can be a game-changer in managing Crohn’s disease. And if possible, it should find its way into your Crohn’s disease self-care plan. Exercise has been shown to reduce Crohn’s symptoms and improve the quality of life of those diagnosed (source).
Exercise can help to reduce stress, strengthen the immune system, and promote a healthier gut. Despite the benefits, it’s crucial to remember that not all exercise is suitable for everyone with Crohn’s disease. Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise regimen.
We should point out that exercising to the point of exhaustion is NOT recommended, however. Exercises like running and cycling, whilst generally okay at low intensities and for short periods of time, can exacerbate Crohn’s symptoms if done to excess.
Walking and weight training are generally the preferred exercises and what we typically recommend. Again, these should not be done to exhaustion. Listen to your body and start slow.
Gentle exercises, like yoga and pilates, can also be an excellent way to connect with your body and develop a sense of inner calm.
Sleep and Rest: Healing Your Body
Sleep is one of the most important tools in our arsenal in preventing Crohn’s symptoms. The body uses sleep to heal and restore itself, and adequate sleep has been shown to reduce inflammation in IBD patients (source).
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is advised, and aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Also, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. This can help regulate your body’s internal clock and improve the quality of your sleep.
Your sleep environment also plays a key role. A dark, quiet, cool room is most conducive to good sleep. Consider using earplugs, a sleep mask, or a white noise machine if necessary. A comfortable mattress and pillows can also make a big difference.
Screen time before bed can interfere with your sleep. The blue light emitted by screens can suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep. Try to turn off all electronic devices at least an hour before bed to help your body get into a restful state,
The last thing we’ll say on this, is don’t be discouraged if your sleep is poor, you can still heal. But certainly make your sleep a priority and work towards better sleep habits.
Socialization: Get Out There
The emotional burden of Crohn’s disease is sometimes overlooked. Connecting with others can reduce feelings of isolation, improve your quality of life, and even extend your life if you have Crohn’s (source).
Joining a support group can be beneficial. Support groups bring together people who are going through the same experiences. They provide a space to share stories, exchange tips, and bond. Both online and local groups can be great resources.
Speaking with your loved ones about your situation can also make a big difference. The more they understand, the better they can support you. Don’t be afraid to share your experiences and needs with them.
Perhaps the best advice that we can give on this, is to work out what you CAN do, and do it. You don’t have to go to every social event you hear about, and you don’t have to eat the pizza. But isolation is a net-negative for your diagnosis. Get out there, it will quite literally extend your life.
Medication: Navigating the Landscape
Some people will choose to pursue holistic healing, though medication is a big part of many peoples’ Crohn’s disease self-care plan. Many medications are available, each with its own benefits and potential side effects. Navigating this landscape can be complex, and working closely with your healthcare provider is a must.
Consistency is key if you choose to take medication and always take medications as prescribed by your doctor. Skipping doses or taking more than recommended can worsen symptoms and cause other health problems.
If you experience side effects from your medication, it’s important to report these to your doctor as soon as possible. They can adjust your dosage or switch you to a different medication if necessary.
Regular check-ups are also important. These appointments give your doctor the chance to assess the effectiveness of your treatment and make any necessary changes. They’re also an opportunity for you to ask any questions or raise any concerns.
Crohn’s disease is a journey. And a comprehensive Crohn’s disease self-care plan can enable you to navigate it more confidently with fewer symptoms.
Here’s a recap:
- Eat nutrient dense whole foods, and avoid trigger foods.
- Release negative energy and incorporate technique like mindfulness, meditation, and CBT, into your routine.
- Make exercise a regular part of your life if you can.
- Prioritize sleep and rest, creating an optimal sleep environment.
- Do not isolate yourself. Perhaps join a support group and seek professional counseling.
- Be consistent with your medication. Be aware of the risks and attend regular check-ups with your doctor.