Can Stress Trigger a Flare Up?

Today I want to talk about the question I get asked a lot, and that is “can stress trigger a flare up?” I am not a doctor by any means, but from my personal experience the answer is without a doubt YES! Stress can easily trigger a flare up for those with IBS, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, along with a lot of other diseases.

Can Stress Trigger a Flare Up?

I have lived with Ulcerative Colitis for almost 3 years now, and have been off my medication for 2 years. Prior to my diagnosis I had not even heard the term “UC” before. That first year was lets just put it, not pleasant. In fact it was the worst year of my entire life by a mile, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Figuring out what was wrong, what I could and could not eat, and what triggered my Ulcerative Colitis was a long and grueling process of trial and error. You can read my full story.

Over the past 3 years I have learned a thing or two about the digestive system and would like to think I understand it a little better than before. Food does really matter, and what we put into our bodies is super important! But a huge factor for me is just stress. Unfortunately this past weekend I went into what I call a “mini-flare.” It is the worst I have felt in probably a year. The puzzling thing was I didn’t eat anything differently as I am very strict about my diet.

So exactly happened? Well, the simple answer is stress happened. While this notion might seem crazy to some, there has been lots of research about the mind-body connection and how our emotions can actually physically affect us. To put it simply, for anyone with Crohn’s, IBS, or Ulcerative Colitis, stress is not a good thing. They don’t mix well. And many of us with digestive issues are perfectionists, which is a problem to begin with. We stress out over even the little things!

stress triggered flare up ulcerative colitis

According to WebMD, “Your brain produces substances that can improve your health. These substances include endorphins, which are natural painkillers, and gamma globulin, which strengthens your immune system… Negative thoughts and emotions can keep your brain from producing some of the chemicals that help your body heal.”

Ironically Taxes Undoubtedly Caused my Flare Up

Whether you believe the mind-body connection or not, I have seen this happen first hand with my own body. These last 2 weeks have been incredibly stressful for me. Why? Two words: tax time. Normally this would not be that bad. I am usually one of those people who just does the personal Turbo Tax online and am done in the first 30 minutes. However, this year my tax situation was structured like this:

  • Personal taxes (Had to get K-1 from partnership, file estimated taxes from LLC)
  • Partnership (Had to get business turbo tax and file federal + mail AZ state taxes + generate K1s for both partners)
  • LLC (Had to work with my tax accountant to file AZ state taxes + sign for federal)

stress from taxes

I am a pretty smart guy, but I hate taxes and they stress me out. I had never filed for a partnership or LLC before and so having to do all 3 at the same time just made me really nervous. I kept putting them off because in the back of my head I knew there were blank question marks where I didn’t have the answers yet. Unfortunately procrastination is not healthy for stress! This only fuels it.

When I finally buckled down one night to do everything, I was swamped with paperwork and all sorts of questions. I was frantically Googling most of the night and looking up answers online. Then to make things worse, I didn’t have time to finish everything that first night. I entered some wrong information and TurboTax estimated that between Federal and State taxes I owed $11,000! I knew this couldn’t be right, but I was so stressed out I decided to just call it a night and start fresh in the morning.

The next morning I woke up and could tell my stomach was out of wack. I hadn’t eaten anything differently. I have a very strict routine and so the only thing I could contribute this to was stress. And unfortunately it only got worse from there. I figured out my error later that night on my taxes and got the amount owed back down to a reasonable/normal amount. However, by then the damage was done.

Over the next 4 days my stomach went into a complete tale spine and no matter what I ate simply went right through me. I won’t go into too much detail as I know you guys know what I am talking about. Due to it being the weekend I couldn’t mail my AZ tax form (they don’t allow AZ state taxes to be filed e-filed) immediately and so I had to wait until Monday. I spent most of the weekend in what I would call a full “mini flare up.”

What is a Flare Up?

Some people have different definitions but in my personal opinion a flare up is when all your symptoms come back and it feels like all the dieting, all the rules you have been following, all go out the window. It really is depressing. Flare ups could last months for some, weeks for others, or days. It all depends upon the person.

Thankfully for me, because of my strict dieting, I managed to get my flare up under control the following Monday. Ironically the afternoon after I mailed my AZ tax papers and had everything for that finished was when my symptoms all subsided and I felt normal again. Coincidence? I think not. I 100% contribute my flare up to stress, nervousness, and being anxious over the past two weeks from my taxes, which put me over the edge. Thanks Uncle Sam. Although really it was mainly my fault for not handling the stress the way I should have.

Summary

You might agree or disagree that stress can cause flare ups. But from many of my encounters with people, stress is one of the major factors that triggers it. The best advice I can give to you and to myself is to try and take a deep breathe and relax. The world wasn’t ending, and all in all I finished up all my taxes in less than 48 hours. I should have tackled my problems and stress factors head on from the beginning instead of letting them fester for weeks.

just breathe

As I am writing this, I am completely back to normal and I think it was important for me to go through this short window of pain to remember how far I have come over the past 2 years. And to remind myself that life is short. I shouldn’t be stressing over things that in the long run won’t matter.

I would love to hear your thoughts? Do you have any experience with stress causing flare ups?

7 thoughts on “Can Stress Trigger a Flare Up?”

  1. Agreed that stress causes distressing IBS symptoms. And it can be sneaky if you think you’re handling your stress when in fact your body and your mind are not in sync. Quite a challenge to overcome.

    • Hi Karilou,

      Thanks for your comment. I totally agree… There are times when I think I am handling everything fine, when really I’m not. Getting rid of as much stress in your life as possible is the best way to keep it under control.

  2. Great Points…I have definitely noticed when big projects are going on at work, I get flare ups…I still have not figured out how to deal with this yet. I don’t necessarily feel stressed out, and I hit the gym regularly reasoning that should reduce some stress, or at least give it an outlet…My next step may be to try a motorcycle :)

    • Hey Jacob, glad to hear you can relate with this. I too have trouble figuring out how I should manage it. I think it will be different for each person. Working out is a good way for me to also relax, or a good bike ride. Sometimes just getting our minds off of our current tasks can help reduce the stress. The motorcycle sounds fun :)

  3. I don’t know about UC or IBS but stress is definitely an issue with my Celiac Disease. The worst part is I am a nurse so I am under stress every day I work to the point I have that the doctors have suggested that I retire (I am old enough) but I love what I do.

    • Thanks for your comment Mary. I totally agree as I think stress has an impact on any digestive disease, including Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s, and even Celiac. Our digestive system plays more of a role on how we feel than I think a lot of people realize. I know when my stomach is out of whack, my entire day is ruined.

  4. Thanks so much fir this post.. I was diagnosed with celiac and was following s very strick diet… I went through some issues with my 23 year old son which was very stressful…. out of no where I was having stomach issues and rash on hands. Couldn’t figure out what I ate different. Think stress triggered an outbreak.

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