As some of you know, I have ulcerative colitis, and I also just completed an extended vacation. It has been just over two years since my wife and I left town for more than a few days, so needless to say we were super happy to be getting away from it all.
Now that our vacation has been over for 1 week or so, it became clear upon our return that it was one of the best vacations we’ve taken together. There are a whole bunch of reasons for why but the main reason for this post is to talk about stress and how it affects our bodies.
Several months ago, I was invited to attend a meeting in San Francisco where a well known Molecular Biologist was going to be talking about his newest bestseller book: Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. This particular doctor has spent a great deal of time examining human brain development and the genetics of psychiatric disorders and his name is Dr. John Medina. An added bonus for arriving early was I actually was able to speak with the doctor one on one for about twenty minutes beforehand. He seemed like a great guy, and a genius as well. But at the time I had no idea how much I would learn from him.
So, back to my travels and vacationing. Before leaving for the cross country airplane ride, I made sure to pack the “Brain Rules” book that I had only halfway read up until this point. I really enjoyed the first half of the book, but as we always say, I “got busy” and just hadn’t finished it yet. That was going to change quickly, once we made it down to Cancun and had plenty of time sitting on the beach with absolutely nothing to do other than soak up the sun and a ton of water and a rare Jack on the rocks(some of my old habits are creeping back into my life again…). So, there I was reading Brain Rules, and the Rule/Chapter about STRESS.
Dr. Medina lays out the background of how our brains handle and deal with stress in an amazingly interesting and simple way. But he also explained so much more that was complete news to me. He explains on page 186 of Brain Rules, “Stress attacks the immune system, increasing employees’ chances of getting sick. Stress elevates blood pressure, increasing the risk of hear attack, stroke, and autoimmune diseases.”
And you bet that caught my attention while sitting in the sand. The words autoimmune disease caught me the most since I have one of those diseases right…
I don’t want to act as though I am a doctor, or even someone who is well versed in medicine or stress, but the chapter has made a big positive impact on me over the last few days and I think this will continue in the future. The book explains how there are different types of “stress” in everyone’s lives. But, the type of stress that comes from not having control over a situation may very well be the most important stress to avoid if possible. The book even goes further to explain how our bodies handle stress, and that by itself is also amazing. It turns out we actually produce adrenaline and cortisol to combat stress when it pops up in our lives. This sounds great, but repeated stress over and over again is not what our bodies were made for, and there are negative side effects that take place with the repeated production of adrenaline and cortisol over and over again, some of which may lead to heart attacks and strokes.
So now let me try and tie this talk about stress to my life living with ulcerative colitis. As many of you may agree, after being diagnosed with UC life is very rough and full of so much uncertainty. Not only are we worried about our future, but we are worried about our family and our current pain, suffering, work, school, kids, family etc… There is all kinds of uncertainty and much of that has to do with the feeling of being out of control of our bodies and specifically our ulcerative colitis symptoms. I know that was the case for me.
What has changed for me since being diagnosed two and a half years ago, is now I feel like I’m the one making the rules, and that I’m the one in control. No longer am I worried and stressed out about my digestive system all the time like it used to be.
After I went through trying all types of medications without any lasting luck, I started on a new diet that others had used to heal their ulcerative colitis.
I do credit the SCD Diet for the bulk of my ulcerative colitis success and stress reduction, but there have been other positive influences on my current happiness while living with UC too. A great family, wife, and support group is always an added bonus.
Am I stress free now….no, but am I sure happy not to be worrying about UC every ten minutes like I used to….heck yeah.
To everyone who has found a way to remove or at least minimize ulcerative colitis related stress in your life, I salute you! No matter what your solution is, diet, surgery, medications, whatever you’re doing that’s helping you to live a normal life, pat yourself on the back because you’re winning the game we all play with UC.