Stress and Inflammatory Bowel Disease

There is no evidence to suggest that stress actually causes inflammatory bowel disease but relapses of the condition have been associated with periods of increased stress. Stress may be brought on due to a variety of reasons and can be dealt with in many ways - what works for one person may not work for all.

It may not be possible to avoid completely situations which increase stress but being aware of the possible triggers and how to deal with them is important.


Situations can appear different and problems are generally much easier to deal with following a restful and refreshing sleep. It is therefore important to establish a good sleep routine.
  1. Ensure that the bedroom is a stress-free zone. It is better to avoid watching controversial or highly stimulating television programmes late at night or whilst in bed as this may delay getting off to sleep.
    • Avoid telephone calls late at night (unless the job requires you to be on call).
    • Noisy clocks may also be distracting.
    • Always try to settle quarrels and arguments before going to bed and avoid carrying them over to the next day.
  2. Have soft, low lighting rather than bright lights in the bedroom.
  3. Take a warm bath or shower prior to bedtime.
  4. Place some essential oils (especially lavender) at certain points around the bedroom.
  5. Fresh linen on the bed can be very relaxing to climb under.
  6. Have a night-cap or warm, milky drink before bedtime (if not on a restricted diet).
  7. Establish a regular bedtime and bedtime routine.


Practising relaxation programmes can help you to unwind and increase the body's reserves to be able to cope with the daily stresses that are part of normal life.

There are many methods to choose from depending on whether you need mental or physical relaxation and the time or place that you have to practise in.

Set aside a regular time (about 15 - 20 minutes in a lunch break can be sufficient) to lie down or sit in a comfortable and relax. Here are some tips:

  • take the telephone off the hook or divert calls
  • hang a 'do not disturb' sign - and mean it!
  • practise low, slow breathing, using the diaphragm. ‘Breathe through your tummy-button!’

Progressive physical relaxation

This form of relaxation increases the awareness of tension and how it feels to relax by stretching big groups of muscles for approximately 5 - 6 seconds and letting go for 15 - 20 seconds. Start from the head and work down to the toes concentrating on all the muscles on the way down, tensing and relaxing each group.

Mental relaxation

Find a quiet, comfortable position, close your eyes and place hands on thighs with upturned palms. Take 3 - 4 low, slow breaths and accept whatever floats through the mind. Concentrate on the silent repetition of sound, (e.g. repeating the word 'one' as you breathe out). This also helps physical relaxation.

Transcendental meditation

This form of relaxation may be helpful if you find it difficult to relax alone and enjoy group support.
A word is chosen and is repeated silently and rapidly causing all nagging conscious thoughts to be cast aside as only the chosen word is concentrated on. Classes can prove expensive so shop around to find the best for you.

Auto hypnosis

This is a form of mental relaxation which may take some practice.

Sit on a chair, fully supported about 3m from a wall and focus on a spot slightly above eye level.

Count breaths back from 100 and picture yourself floating and free. As the eyes begin to feel heavy, close them and stop counting when you feel loose and relaxed. You will be fully aware of your surroundings and able to check your watch to time the relaxation. When you want to finish, allow 3 breaths to revert to normal whilst continuing to hold onto the pleasant relaxed feeling.

Creative visualisation

This is relaxation whereby positive and pleasurable mental images, which can involve all senses, are used to build up pictures in the mind.

These could include:
  • a childhood picnic.
  • a trip to the beach, hearing the sound and smell of the sea, warm sand between the toes and hot sun on the skin.
  • favourite foods or smells.
  • situations that you dealt with really well and of which you feel proud.
  • remembering a previous time of being tense and subsequently relaxing and realising how good that felt.

Visualisation is a very potent natural relaxant. The brain is unable to differentiate between vividly imagined events and real ones. Thinking about good things can make you feel good and thinking about unpleasant things, e.g. pain, may feel like the real thing.

Other types of relaxation


This method focuses on three areas:
  • exercise
  • breathing
  • relaxation
It also allows you to schedule a time that you can attend regularly. There are many classes available so shop around and find one that suits you.


A full body massage can be a wonderful treat and can relieve tense 'knots' in the muscles and relax stiff spines. It may also improve sleep patterns. Many people benefit from facial massages.

Relaxation can only help to eliminate the symptoms of stress and unfortunately not the cause. If you find that you are unable to relax and it is becoming increasingly difficult to cope with everyday stresses, it may be time to review your lifestyle and consider what changes can be made, e.g.
  • change of employment to a less stressful one.
  • counselling or confiding in a friend or associate.
  • help from family and friends.