For the last day of Crohn's Awareness Month, I thought I would share some personal thoughts. Without question, my journey with Crohn's disease has been an uphill battle for many years. Sometimes a flare would come out of nowhere and sometimes a food or maybe a stress event would set the disease off. My doctor is great at telling me to reduce the stress in my life, but sometimes stress comes when you least expect it. It isn't that I don't try to control my stress because I do, but you can't control life.

It happens.

Stress and Crohn's disease

Although stress doesn't cause Crohn's disease, it can make everything worse.

While the association of stress and Crohn's is controversial, people who have Crohn's disease know stress makes it worse. When you are stressed your stomach empties slowly and it secretes more acid. Have you ever "choked" under stress? Have you ever had to make a "gut-wrenching" decision? There is a reason for those terms.

Digestion is controlled by the enteric nervous system which is composed of hundreds of millions of nerves. Digestion shuts down when stress activates the flight or fight response and blood flow is decreased. Stress can also cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal system and if you have Crohn's disease, everything is exacerbated twice over.

It is important to know your physical response to stress so you can take steps to reduce it.

Even when life throws curve balls you can do your body a favor by helping it to relax. Sometimes, acceptance is a necessary part of life and people with Crohn's disease and other chronic diseases are all too familiar with accepting things they used to hate. We have no choice.

The relaxation response

There are some techniques that can activate relaxation and one of them is breathing.

I call it the four by four. I breathe in and count to four, breathe out to the count of four, then rest to the count of four, and then start over again. It usually takes about four tries to get the autonomic nervous system to reboot and provide some relief.

When stress is constant it is best to include the breathing exercise four times a day even when you think it is impossible.

The system is on our hard drive so the body has to relax, even if it is only for a few seconds. This does not remove stress, all it does is quiet it and give you time to think things through.

Every human being has been given a measure of faith in something. Even atheists believe that when death comes, it that is the end. It is the end as it ought to be, a descent into nothingness from which nothing can come. That is faith in itself because no one knows what happens after we die.

If you believe that there is something rather than nothing, you might as well believe that things happen for a purpose and a reason that is out of our control. Believing that gives away the stress and since you don't have power over it anyway, you might as well not worry about what is happening.


The most courageous people I have ever known live with a Chronic Disease and that includes cancer. We all live with that in-your-face-moment when the life we are living is turned upside down. There is a drive within us that keeps us going forward. We refuse to give up. When my friend died of Crohn's disease a few years ago the last thing she said to me was, "I fought the good fight," which she did, courageously.

courage is a quality of spirit that enables a person to face life in the midst of hardship. It does not mean that people do not fear, it is how they act in the face of fear that is the definition of courage.