Gastrointestinal Disorder Psychological Skills and Coping

Gastrointestinal disorders affect more than one in five Americans and include conditions such as Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease, and IBS. Living with gastrointestinal (GI) problems can be both physically and mentally distressing.   If you have been diagnosed with a gastrointestinal disorder, you know all-too-well how anxiety-provoking, uncomfortable, embarrassing, and depressing these conditions and the associated lifestyle can be.  Going to public places, strategically planning where to sit on airplanes, being in a car or train, or perhaps even leaving your home at all becomes much more difficult or maybe impossible.  This is often due to the physical discomfort of having to frequently and urgently use the restroom. However, what worsens the physical distress is the psychological anxiety over not knowing where the restrooms are, how many restrooms will be available (which is worsened if the place is crowded and only has one to two restrooms), the discomfort of having to excuse yourself multiple times at social outings, etc.  Perhaps home has become a place of solitude and comfort because it is “safe” – meaning, open access to a bathroom and an environment that is free of judgment regardless of how many times you “go.” However, it is likely you are not doings the things you would like to and not living the life you want, thereby letting your GI problem physically, mentally, and emotionally control you.

While there is very little your doctor can likely do to cure you of the physical aspects of a gastrointestinal disorder, living with the psychological distress is an option.  In fact, the effects of psychological, social, and behavioral factors in gastrointestinal disease have received considerable clinical attention and most research suggests that psychological factors can both cause and aggravate flare-ups. You are not alone in your experiences and the mental anguish that follows.  Speaking to a professional who is non-judgmental is a lot different than talking to your friends and family about these concerns – sometimes, you just need an objective, unbiased person who will listen to you describe your GI difficulties and concerns without the fear of embarrassment that often happens in social settings. Psychotherapy is a very helpful tool that can be used to teach you ways to reduce stress (and therefore reduce the likelihood of flare-ups), cognitively manage related anxiety and depression symptoms while having a flare-up (and even some physical symptoms!), calm your mind, reduce intense emotions about your medical condition, and get you back to living your life in realistic, but satisfying ways.

Dr. Barbash understands what you are experiencing and specializes in treating the psychological aspects of GI conditions.  She would love to hear from you today.