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Responding To Comments About Stress

What Can You Say To Someone Who Tells You That Your IBD Is "Just Stress"?

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Updated June 30, 2012

There are a lot of holdovers from when it was believed that inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) was caused by stress or psychological problems. We know now that stress does not cause IBD. IBD does have a relationship with stress, but it's not as simple as cause and effect.

You and I know how stress impacts IBD, but many people still do not. Or, in some cases, they may not believe the recent evidence that shows that IBD is probably caused by a complex mix of genetics and environmental triggers. These people may say things to you about your IBD, and how if you managed your stress better the IBD might just improve or even be "cured."

I asked my Twitter followers about the insensitive comments they've heard about stress and IBD over the years. Here are a few of them:

@SemiColonGirl: "It's probably just stress."

@georgetheemu: "Are you sure it's not just caused by stress?"

@tracilynnribble: "It's all in your head!"

How can you respond to someone who makes a comment about how your IBD is caused by stress? Your answer will depend on who the person is, how you know them, and your patience level at the time. If this is a person who is important to you and going to figure significantly in your life, you will want to gently educate them about stress and IBD: namely that while stress doesn't cause IBD, it can make a flare-up worsen. Therefore, it's important that you watch your stress levels, but even if you had no stress, your IBD might still flare-up.

Another topic that you may want to hit on is that researchers are closing in on the real causes of IBD. Several genes have been identified as being related to the development of IBD. It's still unclear as to exactly how these genes cause IBD, but new research is being done all the time.

The last idea that you can discuss is that there was research done -- many years ago -- that did indicate that stress caused IBD. This is likely where many of the ideas about people with IBD being "type A" personalities, or people who are easily affected by stress, came from. These studies have long been dismissed as being flawed, and they are not considered to be valid by contemporary health professionals.

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