For the past 15 years, I’ve left no stone unturned in my quest to regain my health and heal ulcerative colitis naturally.
One of the most surprising things I’ve learned in that time is how much every aspect of our lives and lifestyles affect our health.
Living day to day, in a way that keeps me healthy sustainably and predictably, has been unfolding into a never-ending journey of learning and growth.
Food is the foundation or first pillar, but once all the inflammatory stuff is out of your diet, the next major component you need to address is the broad area of “lifestyle.” There’s a lot of healing to be found here.
Healing from a chronic and serious illness like inflammatory bowel disease requires a tremendous effort. It will require you to examine every area of your life to find the hidden energy drains and negative habits.
Whatever life you were living previously is over now anyway.
You can have a new life of illness, flare-ups and stress about food and eating. You can take medications and have surgeries every few years. Or, you can have a life that revolves around new foods, new habits and healthier behaviors. You can discover who you are on the other side of the illness. Beyond it.
Healing IBD naturally isn’t an easy path, but then again, neither is having it.
I’m very glad I chose this overall path more than 15 years ago. It’s been worth it and it was, ultimately, the right choice for me.
Major Areas to Examine Within Lifestyle
Lifestyle is an all-inclusive term for everything in your life environment as well as your day-to-day habits, practices and behaviors.
Below is a list of some of the major components for getting a handle on healing and stress-reduction within the context of lifestyle.
- Plenty of Rest and Deep Sleep
- Work Environment
- Home Environment
- Family Relationships
- Relationship with Self
- Intimate Relationship(s)
- Recreation, Play and Leisure
- Relationship to God, Spirit, Higher Power
- Sense of Purpose
These are major areas of lifestyle to examine in your healing path. Note that, at the center of the graphic below, the circle represents that our culture as a whole is coming into alignment with kinder, gentler and more holistic living practices. Many of the things I recommend for health and healing – minimalist living, yoga, meditation, organic and local food, marijuana, etc. – are growing in acceptance and popularity in the culture at large.
We’re growing and evolving as a culture and as a species. There’s a new world emerging and the old ways are becoming less and less effective and more and more toxic.
Everything in Your Life Enhances or Holds Back Your Healing
We’re a product of our environments. Serious diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease come about as the result of an infinite number of factors throughout our lives.
Once food is relatively well-handled, stress, activity level, intensity of activities and your life environment become key to healing.
Lifestyle encompasses everything we do in our lives.
Everything in our lives is either moving us closer to health or keeping us stuck in old patterns that keep us unhealthy and sick.
Compounding this problem is the fact that exactly what “healthy” and “unhealthy” patterns are isn’t so easy to figure out.
What passes for “healthy” in our modern world tends to be anything but healthy. Following popular and mainstream advice usually just makes us sicker and more confused.
Once we begin to look at our lives and inhabit our bodies more fully, we see and feel the effects of virtually everyone and everything in our lives much more clearly. Once we begin to heal it’s easier to see how people and environments and habits are effecting our mental states and health negatively.
Ulcerative Colitis is Called a “Stress-Related” Illness for a Reason
In Figure 2, above, I’m showing a simplified illustration of how the fight-or-flight response and the relaxation response interact with and regulate each other.
If the stress response is activated, the relaxation response is inhibited and if the relaxation response is activated, the stress response is shut down. They don’t function simultaneously. It’s an either/or thing.
The stress response is catabolic. This is where adrenaline and cortisol are dominant in the body. These hormones were not meant to be predominant in our lives. They were generally evolved for shorter-duration, stressful, survival events. Being chased by a tiger is the classic example.
The relaxation response is the anabolic, “rest, digest and repair” process. Ideally, an optimal amount of time is spent here and it’s hopefully a lot more than in fight-or-flight and stress.
These are opposing processes that are meant to “check and balance” each other.
In the modern world, the relative time spent in each state is “flipped” versus what it would have been through the majority of our lives as hunter-gatherers.
Instead of short bursts of stress followed by a return to normal, we’re chronically stressed and rarely in a relaxed and restorative state.
The fight-or-flight hormones, when chronically elevated, are a primary cause of Type II diabetes, heart disease, anxiety, depression, sleep problems and all kinds of inflammatory and autoimmune issues.
I believe there is a direct link between elevated stress hormones in the body and inflammatory bowel disease. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s are like stress-related digestion problems times 106.
Ulcerative colitis isn’t as mysterious as it seems in the beginning. Really. It’s not.
The Concept of Stress Tolerance
Stress tolerance is how much total stress a person can take physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually.
Different people have different aptitudes and affinities. Not everyone responds to stress the same way and we all have different physical constitutions.
What is exciting to one person can be overwhelmingly stressful to another. And that’s not even factoring in pathological addictions to drama, adrenaline and chaos.
Further, in Western culture, we tend to take on way too much and do it all too intensely. Sooner or later, the human body breaks down. For some people it’s a heart attack. For others it’s a major depressive episode. Others have major weight problems. Still others develop an addiction.
For many of us with UC, it hits us in our gut. Too much stress and too much depletion of the body’s resources without restoration creates problems sooner or later.
Exercise, IBD and Stress Tolerance
We also exercise way too intensely in our culture. This is even more the case for people with an autoimmune disease.
The body’s ability to deal with stress is already overwhelmed when we have UC in general and during a flare-up in particular.
Intense and even moderate exercise further increases inflammation. The body is already over-inflamed and struggling from IBD.
We get just a certain number of “units” of stress tolerance per day. This is total stress. Everything adds up. You don’t have 100 stress units for workouts, another 100 for your relationship, a third 100 for your career. It’s all coming from a single place and it can be overwhelmed by life pretty fast.
The Right Kind of Exercise and Movement
Exercise is, however, still extremely important for humans in general and for people with ulcerative colitis in particular.
The right kind of exercise, in the right dosage and frequency, will modulate cortisol. The wrong types of exercise (or just too much of the right kind) can really elevate cortisol. This can create a lot of problems for people with UC and Crohn’s and even trigger a flare-up under the right circumstances.
I discuss appropriate exercise and many other concepts for healing ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease naturally in my epic FREE guide The Illustrated Roadmap to Healing Ulcerative Colitis Naturally. Grab this free download if you haven’t already!
Stress and Flare-Ups
I find that even when eating a diet composed of 100% of the best foods for me, stress will impact my health and digestion negatively.
Ulcerative colitis is profoundly influenced by stress. Generally, people have flare-ups during times of increased stress. (Has this been true for you? Let me know in the comments!)
Aggressively reducing stress in every area of your life is mandatory for healing a chronic illness like UC.
Bad Food is Really Just Another Stress
Unhealthy, processed and inflammatory food is a major stress on the body. It’s really the same as any other kind of stress. It’s an additional, negative demand your body has to use resources to deal with and heal the damage from.
Bad food is a systemic stress for everyone. For people with inflammatory bowel disease, the stress-effects of the wrong food are much more intense.
I suspect this is one reason people with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease have such debilitating fatigue – the body is struggling to cope with intense stress on every system.
Work and Job Stress
We spend a lot of time working and earning a living. This is the major source of stress for many people. If you’re sick with UC, it’s very likely that your job – or even your career choice – is a major problem.
Sometimes our bodies just aren’t robust enough to handle what a career or particular corporate culture demands.
If you suspect your career is part of your problem, read the book Finding Your North Star by Martha Beck. It will give you all kinds of insights about your life and career choices.
Another great book is a somewhat obscure one by Janet G. Wolititz, Ed. D. titled The Self-Sabotage Syndrome – Adult Children in the Workplace.
One of the biggest obstacles to healing can be hanging on to jobs and careers that will only ever make us stressed and sick.
Everybody has to work and earn a living, but there are many, many options for this in the modern world and people are starting new careers at every age and at every phase of their lives.
Covid accelerated this and, as of September of 2020 as I write this, even once-stable careers, professions and industries have begun to rapidly decline. There are new industries emerging. There are a lot of opportunities to rethink life and career path right now, for everyone.
Sometimes we can just modify our work habits and hours if we have that freedom, but often people emerge out of the other side of chronic illness with an entirely new career path.
Sometimes it’s an entirely new life.
A Nourishing, Sustainable Ecosystem
The high-level idea with lifestyle is to create an “ecosystem” for yourself that’s nourishing, positive and sustainable over time. Everything in your life is either feeding you or draining you. It’s very easy for this give-and-take to get skewed.
Particularly with IBD, there’s such a huge burden on the body already from all the damage from the illness, we can get drained and exhausted pretty easily and quickly.
One of the major keys to healing UC is to always leave something extra “in the tank” and resist chronically pushing yourself and becoming exhausted. This is particularly true during a flare-up.
For the many years I struggled with UC in a loosing battle. I could never understand why my body would “let me down” at the worst possible times. I had plenty of flare-ups at pivotal times in my life and career. The results were devastating.
Finally, I learned that I was the one letting my body, and myself, down. It was the stress I was under in those “pivotal times” that was driving the flare-ups and the UC to begin with.
After many years, too many flare-ups to count and a few near-death experiences, I saw how predictably and dramatically my UC was responding to negative, stressful and high-intensity situations. There were also toxic relationships and major relationship stresses over the years that kept me sick and led to flare-ups too.
Once You’re In a Flare-Up, It’s Too Late
The idea is that you need to be living in a way that’s healthy and healing for you. Living the life of “you” as a healthy person.
This is as opposed to going along “like normal,” having a flare-up and then taking that roller-coaster ride until you get better somehow. Miraculously. Hopefully. This momentum is entirely wrong. You’re simply living in ways that are making and keeping you sick and then going from “not too sick” to flare-up and back again. And everything in between.
I did this for too long. I don’t do it anymore and never will again.
Lifestyle design and stress reduction are high-level, proactive and systems-based solutions to healing.
Without the supporting ecosystem of a well-designed lifestyle, the medicinal effects of the best food and medical marijuana won’t have a strong foundation to heal us from. Continued weeding, culling and vigilance is required to clear the clutter that’s in the way of our healing.
Did this article teach you something you didn’t know about healing ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease? Have you noticed similar patterns? Had similar observations? Let me know in the comments!
If you’d like a high-level view of everything you need to know to heal ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease naturally, you can download my FREE, 76-page guide The Illustrated Roadmap for Healing Ulcerative Colitis Naturally here!
Thanks for reading!