Stress and anxiety do not cause Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, but they can negatively impact your physical health and cause further gastric distress. These mindfulness techniques can help you learn to relax.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

The ability to relax and clear your mind is a helpful coping skill for managing stress. Living with a chronic illness can make it difficult to know how to relax or even where to begin. Diaphragmatic breathing, which is also known as deep breathing or belly breathing, offers many physical and emotional benefits, making it a great place to start.

  • Lowers heart rate and blood pressure

  • Decreases muscle tension

  • Oxygenates your blood

  • Brings warmth to your hands and feet

  • Increases energy and motivation

  • Improves concentration

  • Strengthens the immune system

  • Reduces stress hormones

The activation of the diaphragm through diaphragmatic breathing also allows for a gentle massage of the internal organs, including the intestines and stomach, which can help with abdominal pain, urgency, bloating,  and constipation.

How to Diaphragmatic Breathe

Diaphragmatic breathing is a skill that requires practice. It will become easier over time. When you are first learning to diaphragmatic breathe, you may feel some uneasiness or lightheadedness, which is perfectly normal. Allow yourself time to acclimate after your session and take care not to stand up too quickly.

  1. Sit or lie in a comfortable place. Close your eyes.

  2. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen. Your bottom hand should do the moving. Top hand should remain still or only move as the bottom hand moves.

  3. Inhale through your nose for about 4 seconds and feel your abdomen expand. You may feel slight tension during these initial inhalations.

  4. Hold your breath for 2 seconds.

  5. Exhale through your mouth very slowly for about 6 seconds. Your mouth should be relaxed with a steady, slow exhalation.

  6. Repeat for 5 to 15 minutes.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This technique, also called PMR, involves tensing and relaxing various muscle groups to relieve your body of added tension that can make stress and pain worse. It is easy to learn and it will help you become more aware of muscle relaxation after you release the tension in each group of muscles. This technique can also be done in consultation with a mental health professional. 

With each movement, focus on the sensations of relaxation coming into your body. You may feel warmth and a sense of well-being and peace. Hold each position for 7 to 10 seconds, then relax your muscles for about 20 seconds. Tense and relax each muscle group twice before moving on to the next part of the body.

  1. Begin by sitting or lying in a comfortable position. You may want to close your eyes.

  2. Start with the muscles in both hands. Make fists and hold them tightly for 7 to 10 seconds. Then let go and relax your muscles for about 20 seconds. Notice how your hands feel as they release tension. You may begin to notice a warm sensation. Repeat this one more time.

  3. Next, tense the muscles of your upper and lower arms by bending the arms at the elbow and tensing as you bend. Then relax those muscles.

  4. Next, focus on the muscles in your shoulders and neck. Shrug your shoulders up toward your ears. Notice the warmth, heaviness and relaxation coming into the muscles of your shoulders and neck. Then let go.

  5. Now, push your head against whatever is supporting it. Gently tense the muscles of your neck, then let go.

  6. Next, gently pull your chin toward your chest. Notice the feeling of tension. Let go.

  7. Now you will focus on the muscles in your face. Wrinkle the muscles of your forehead and the area around your eyes. Notice the feeling of tension in these muscles, then let go.

  8. Now, move to your chest. Arch your back slowly and easily as you inhale and tense the muscles around your ribcage. Hold the tension, and then let go.

  9. Tense the muscles of your lower back and stomach by pressing your buttocks down into your chair, floor or bed. Feel the tension and notice the tightness in the low back, stomach, and buttocks. Then relax.

  10. Now, lift the right leg and point the toes upward and slightly inward. Notice the tension running from the top of your leg, down through the knee, calf, and toes. Then release.

  11. Lift the left leg and point the toes upward and slightly inward. Feel the tension run through the leg muscles all the way to the toes. Notice the warmth that has flowed into these muscles then relax your leg.

  12. Finally, scan your entire body from head to toes. Notice the relaxation that has come into your body. Which muscles have relaxed? Simply notice the difference between how your body feels now and how it felt before you started.

Feel free to revisit certain areas of the body, or simply enjoy the relaxation and feel proud of yourself for doing something good for your body and mind.