Stress and Coping


Stress in one's life and the way you cope with it will affect illness. Opinions have changed on the role of stress in IBD over the years. Initially, there was an unfortunate belief that Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis were "psychosomatic diseases," meaning that they are caused by psychological factors. When it became clear that this was not true, there was a backlash against the stigma that had been caused by the psychosomatic theory. The unfortunate result of the backlash was to silence those who still felt that there was some connection between stress and their disease.

Most people with IBD, but certainly not all, believe that there is some link between stress or other psychological factors and the course of their illness. Lately, research findings have backed up this belief. Research at Mount Sinai is investigating the possibility that ulcerative colitis comes in different varieties — a type that is stress sensitive and a type which stress does not affect. We may be able to better understand how stress is translated into physical changes in the immune system that affect the course of IBD.

Coping with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or dealing with the stress of surgery means dealing with a variety of problems including: suffering, uncertainty and fear about the future, limitation in physical ability, pain, changes in social relationship roles, doubt about physical attractiveness or competence, negotiating and communicating with a complex medical system that can be confusing, and frightening. The following discussion on stress and coping will hopefully allow you to recognize if you are suffering from stress and gain some insight into how to effectively handle stress.

How do I know if I am suffering from stress?

Each person handles stress differently. Some people actually seek out situations which may appear stressful to others. A major life decision, such as changing careers or buying a house, might be overwhelming for some people, while others may welcome the change. Some find sitting in traffic too much to tolerate, while others take it in stride. The key is determining your personal tolerance levels for stressful situations.

Stress can cause physical, emotional and behavioural disorders which can affect your health, vitality, peace-of-mind, as well as personal and professional relationships. Too much stress can cause relatively minor illnesses like insomnia, backaches, or headaches, and can contribute to potentially life-threatening diseases like high blood pressure and heart disease.

What are the Signs of Stress?

Tips for Reducing or Controlling Stress

Where to Get Help?

Help may be as close as a friend or spouse. But if you think that you or someone you know may be under more stress than just dealing with a passing difficulty, it may be helpful to talk with your doctor, spiritual advisor, or employee assistance professionals. They may suggest you visit with a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or other qualified counsellor.

The section "How do I know if I am suffering from stress?" was adapted from the National Mental Health Association ( fact sheet"Stress - Coping With Everyday Problems".