Maintaining a healthy and peaceful mind is an important part of overall health. When living with a chronic disease like inflammatory bowel, it can be easy to neglect psychological health. The physical pain, frequent hospital visits, and distressing gastrointestinal symptoms are all but relaxing for anyone, and it can be difficult to think about how any breathing exercise is going to help.
The brain-gut connection
But it turns out that there is a lot to gain from relaxation and meditation for those who live with Crohn's or colitis.
For a long time, there has been much discussion in the medical field about the brain-gut connection. Did you know that your bowels are intricately connected to your central nervous system? Psychiatric disorders and mood imbalance are frequently associated with gastrointestinal disorders, including Crohn's and colitis. The gastrointestinal tract is woven with neural pathways from both the body's fight or flight response and the parasympathetic system. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for mood regulation, is also an important regulator of bowel function. Sometimes, treating a psychiatric disturbance can do wonders to help someone with gastrointestinal disorders. Stress, emotional turmoil, and poor coping strategies can negatively impact health and further progress chronic gastrointestinal diseases.
New research shows that relaxation programs and mindfulness can help
Recently, researchers from Harvard have further investigated the concept of meditation as therapy for people suffering from inflammatory bowel or irritable bowel syndrome. 48 adults suffering from irritable bowel or inflammatory bowel were enrolled in the study to participate in a 9-week relaxation program that focused on stress reduction, healthy behaviors, and cognitive skills. All participants were asked to engage in daily relaxation exercises, which entailed 15-20 minutes of dedicated relaxation time at home every day.
The researchers evaluated their study participants by measuring the quality of life as well as symptoms of anxiety and pain. Blood samples were also analyzed for gene expression of inflammatory pathways known to be involved in the inflammatory bowel. Authors found that with the 9-week relaxation program, all patients benefited from a decrease in cognitive and emotional distress in response to pain or anticipation of pain. Furthermore, the patients engaging in relaxation response would have lower inflammatory gene expression in their blood.
Science supports the use of relaxation techniques
So far, science seems to support the idea that relaxation can have many benefits to patients suffering from IBD. Though meditation is by no means a cure or replacement for modern medicine, its use in combination with current therapies could help patients restore energy, ease the pain, reduce stress, and improve their overall quality of living. Besides, stress has been well-known to be a trigger for disease flares, so minimizing this in patients can potentially curb worsening of bowel symptoms.
How to incorporate mindfulness into your life
For people who live with Crohn's and colitis, meditation can really target the stress and anxiety that comes with chronic pain. By managing stress and coping mechanisms in response to stress, many patients may benefit by curbing flares and improving symptoms. Though stress does not directly cause IBD, it is a well-known trigger for acute symptoms and disease progression. Anxiety and other mood disturbances are also common for patients suffering from Crohn's. Meditation and relaxation are both wonderful ways to treat these imbalances and improve your mood.
There is no such thing as "not enough time"
Meditation doesn't have to take very long, and even a few minutes of self-focused relaxation can reap huge benefits for your overall health. It's an exercise that can be practiced by even the busiest, full-time working parents. Anyone can find a few minutes in the day to focus on their health, no matter how busy or stressful life can get. It's not only extremely important for your health but also beneficial to everyone around you too. A healthier and happier you can spend more quality time with family and friends.
Mind-Body Medicine encompasses a holistic approach
Mind-body medicine is a practice that can be used to help identify and treat underlying psychosocial stresses. It can be used adjunctively to modern medicine and enrich the treatment program for any patient. Mind-body medicine encompasses many aspects of psychological health, including the use of spirituality, psychotherapy, deep breathing, yoga, and hypnosis.
Psychotherapy has been successful in helping people with inflammatory bowel manage life stressors and bowel symptoms. When looking for a psychotherapist, try to find someone familiar with the struggles of having inflammatory bowel disease. These therapists will have a better understanding of your pain and the thoughts and emotions that can come with it.
Meditation is a wonderful practice that helps you focus your attention on yourself with the purpose of calming your mind. Meditation can take the form of a stillness practice in your home, or it could be incorporated into movements such as in yoga or tai chi. Other ways to use meditation is with breathing exercises and progressive relaxation.
Progressive relaxation draws your focus onto different muscles in your body by purposely tightening or relaxing them deliberately. This can help relieve tension in these areas and also exercise your meditative mind.
Breathing exercises are wonderful and are an important component in relaxation techniques, which some studies have shown to lessen abdominal pain. Breathing also helps with meditation practice. The goal of breathing exercise is to focus your attention on your inhalation and exhalation while slowing down your breath. This helps to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system and also is effective in putting your mind in a more meditative state.
Yoga and spirituality can help a person deal with the physical pain with better coping mechanisms, leading to a more well-balanced and healthy lifestyle. If you're interested in adopting mind-body medicine as part of your therapy, you can seek out professionals who are familiar with your disease. For example, find a yoga instructor who respects your body's limitations and understands what types of modifications can benefit someone suffering from Crohn's or colitis.
Take the time to seek out resources and professionals who can help you
If you're suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, you can choose many ways to enrich your life with mindfulness practices. Depending on your personal preferences, lifestyle choices, and work schedules, one or more of these practices may work better for you than others. Don't be afraid to take chances with something new! If you've never tried yoga before, don't feel shy about grabbing a mat and heading to your local yoga practitioner. And if you find that a trainer or therapist isn't a good match for you, politely say your farewells and keep on looking! You will find that there are many different people out there and perhaps some will suit your needs better than others.