Unlike IBS, the IBDs are actually autoimmune disorders in which the body’s immune system starts to attack good bacteria and our own body tissues, especially the tissues in the intestines. This can lead to abdominal pain, chronic urgent diarrhea, malnutrition, anemia, fatigue and weight loss. But like IBS, people with IBDs sometimes struggle to cope effectively with the social and occupational complications and repercussions of having a GI disorder, with anxiety about their health, with shame and secrecy and sometimes with depression.
In part because the body’s stress response can increase inflammation, and in part because having an IBD is a stressor in and of itself, learning effective stress management and adaptive emotion regulation strategies can be a crucial part of improving quality of life and reducing emotional distress in these disorders.
I have developed a self-help program called Coping with Crohn’s and Colitis that utilizes proven CBT strategies to help people with IBDs learn to manage life stress (not avoid it). An initial pilot study I conducted (called a randomized-controlled trial – the gold standard of scientific evidence that something works) showed that people who completed the program felt much better – their overall quality of life improved, they were less depressed, less anxiously focused on their GI symptoms, more likely to view life stressors (and their IBD!) realistically rather than catastrophically, and, overall, far less bothered by their GI symptoms – than they had been before completing the program!
The program has been through several revisions based on feedback from a number of IBD patients, and I think it’s even more helpful now. I’m actually currently recruiting for a clinical trial testing the revised self-help program against a psychoeducational intervention. If you’re interested in participating, please e-mail the study coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read more about the study here (http://www.ccfa.org/research/participate-in-research/find-studies-and-clinical-trials/university-of-pennsylvania/coping-with-crohns-and.html) on the Clinical Trials page of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.