We can trace the belief in a mind-body wellness connection all the way back to ancient Greece. Today, the medical literature is mixed when it comes to the relationship between stress and illness. We know for sure that the underlying cause of Crohn's disease is biological-it's an inflammation of the digestive tract. However, the correlation between stress and inflammation has been documented.

Researchers from Texas A & M University have presented evidence that chronic stress can intensify inflammation, and therefore increase a person's risk for developing inflammatory (and other) diseases. The researchers believe that chronic stress increases pro-inflammatory proteins (called cytokines) that regulate immune and inflammatory functions. This increase in cytokines allows the inflammatory process to run amuck, increasing vulnerability to certain diseases.

Stress triggers real physiological changes. For example, when under stress, the stomach empties its contents more slowly and secretes more acids. It can also increase or decrease the rate at which food passes through the intestines. The emotional response to stress then is often experienced as discomfort, such as abdominal pain. Since Crohn's is an inflammatory disease, it's easy to see how stress plays a role in the way we experience and manage the disease.

For people living with Crohn's, stress may be induced by a flare-up of symptoms, the fear a flare-up will interfere with important activities, or some other external event. Minimizing exposure to stress and developing good coping mechanisms helps you control the disease, rather than allowing it to control you.

Here are a few suggestions for managing stress.

  1. Accept the disease, as difficult as that may be, without negative feelings. Try to maintain a positive attitude.
  2. Learn as much as you can so you will know what to expect and are prepared for any situation. QualityHealth.com has a wealth of medical reports and lifestyle recommendations for Crohn's sufferers-or anyone living with stress.
  3. Don't go it alone. Involve family and friends, and help them understand-and learn to accept-this part of you. Find others who have Crohn's, either online or in community support groups, who know what you are going through. Good support systems are invaluable.
  4. Relax. Engage in activities that you enjoy and that temporarily distract you from thinking about your disease. If you find it difficult to relax on your own, consider incorporating one or more popular relaxation techniques into your stress management toolbox. Yoga, biofeedback and hypnosis, for example, are effective stress-busters for many people.
  5. Maintain control of your diet. Eat frequently, make sure you're always hydrated, and avoid known trigger foods.
  6. Stay active. Exercise reduces stress, boosts your energy, and helps you feel better overall.