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Coping mechanisms and distraction techniques - Laura Zappulla

Everyone has their own way of dealing with things and different strategies for managing uncomfortable situations. Laura Zappulla shares her techniques.

Laura Zappulla

Although many IBD symptoms are uncontrollable, in certain situations my symptoms are worse if I’m stressed or anxious. The perfect example for me is sitting in a car stuck in a traffic jam with no toilets for miles. During a flare, as soon as I knew there was no toilet accessible to me, I would start panicking and my gut would start working overtime. Your heart beats faster, you get hot and sweaty, tense up or might even have trouble swallowing or breathing. It’s incredible what stress can do to our bodies and nervous system, and how it can make our symptoms (or our reaction to them) that much worse.

The number 1 way to manage this would be to avoid putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation. For some, this may be the only option. However, if you are well enough and need or want to go to work, do the shopping, or venture out of your comfort zone to do the things you enjoy, there are many ways to make life easier and reduce anxiety when getting out and about.

Here are some different coping mechanisms and distraction techniques that I find helpful, some specific to IBD, and others which may be useful for any stressful situation.

1. Be prepared: Carry a backup “in case of emergency” bag with things like a change of clothes, plastic bags, baby wipes and towel. You hopefully won’t need it often, but knowing it’s there is a reassurance on its own. When driving, plot a route beforehand so you know where the rest stops are.

2. Yoga and breathing: Yoga and deep breathing are very relaxing. If I’m feeling anxious, taking a few long, deep breaths can be very grounding and keep anxiety at bay. Meditation is great too!

3. See a Psychologist: Talking to someone removed from your situation may be beneficial. 

It might be difficult to open up at first, but it really helped me getting things off my chest. I was completely honest and didn’t feel as if I had to put on a brave face (which sometimes I did when talking to friends and family). 

4. Try Hypnotherapy: My hypnotherapist was invaluable and helped me increase my distraction techniques exponentially! I came out with a much deeper understanding of my thought patterns, fears, values, negative behaviours, self-created barriers and more importantly methods, techniques, and greater mindfulness that I continue to use every day.

Singing a song: Singing an upbeat song out loud engages your mind and senses.

Phonetic alphabet: When sitting in the car stuck at traffic lights read out all the nearby road signs and number plates using the phonetic alphabet

The “Colours” game: Chose a colour and list out loud (or in your head if it’s not appropriate!) all those coloured items in the room or space you are in

Photo a day: Try a hobby that helps focus your attention elsewhere

Positive affirmations: Choose several affirmations and consciously replace negative or invasive thoughts with positive ones. I wrote mine on a sheet of paper and stuck them to my bathroom mirror to say aloud twice a day. If feeling a bit uneasy, I would repeat these over and over in my mind (you can do this anywhere, any time).

5. Understand your body:

- Be aware of the physical signs, and if possible fend off anxiety before the body has a chance to react further or the stressful thought gets too ingrained in your head (eg. by deep breathing).

- Try not to stress if something does happen. It’s not your fault, and just because it’s happened once doesn’t mean it will happen again.

- Are your symptoms worse at certain times of the day, or after you’ve just eaten? If you can, plan your day around this.

6. Support groups: Attending a support group helped me especially immediately following my diagnosis with gaining greater understanding and knowing there were other people going through what I was going through. Ask your local Crohn’s & Colitis organisation where your nearest group is located.

Visit Laura over at her blog site stomalicious.wordpress.com

If you would like to share your story with us, please email mail@eakin.co.uk