Supporting a loved one with IBD – what can I do?
Living with IBD can be extremely challenging. From knowing what to eat to coping with symptoms, it can often feel overwhelming when tackling it alone.
But the love and support of friends and family makes a huge difference to how a person copes. Here at Crohn’s and Colitis Dietitians, we see firsthand the impact your understanding and help have on the lives of those we work with.
Read on for six steps to supporting a loved one with IBD, both practically and emotionally.
How to support a loved one with IBD
Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or IBD, is a lifelong condition. And while symptoms can be managed there are still many challenges to navigate.
First, it’s a good idea to learn the disease your loved one has – the more you know, the more you’ll be able to empathize. You can find out more about the most common forms (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) in our guide to living with IBD.
Help them to not feel embarrassed
Most people don’t really like to share the ins and outs of their bowels, even with those they are closest to. But as well as discussing symptoms, your loved one may also feel embarrassed to share the reality of the challenges they face – and the help they need.
People with IBD experience many challenges during daily life that you may have not realized or considered. Our clients have regularly mentioned that traveling, socializing, and dining out are each difficult for them – not just due to diet restrictions but in light of coping with their symptoms too.
Here’s a number of tips for supporting your loved one to feel more comfortable in day to day life:
- Suggest they pick the restaurant or what they’d like to do together – going to a movie for example can be nerve-wracking for IBD patients struggling with symptoms who feel awkward sneaking out to use the restroom
- Hold space for their feelings without trying to change anything. Being present for what your loved one is experiencing can be the most powerful thing you can do to support them. This can be challenging, but very appreciated.
- Understand they might be tight on cash due to prescription costs or reduced working hours – staying at home can be just as fun as going out
- A sense of humor can come in handy to help them realize there’s no need to feel self-conscious about their symptoms.
- Find out where restrooms are – knowing where the nearest bathroom is a classic source of anxiety for many people with IBD. Download the “we can’t wait” app for support on finding a bathroom.
- Prepare ahead for long journeys in case your loved one has a flare-up. Planning restaurant and restroom stops ahead of time with your loved one can be a great way to ease anxiety and offer support.
Support their food choices
People with different types of IBD often require different diets to help with their symptoms. And this might look slightly different for everyone.
Sometimes food can be tricky to navigate with IBD- some foods may flare up symptoms for those with IBD and some foods may also trigger fear as well. Remember everybody’s relationship with food and their body is different and that your loved one will know what works best for them.
Some people with IBD may also have food allergies or food intolerances that can come to light. Food intolerances, in particular, may also change over time or resolve completely. It’s therefore helpful to be flexible to their needs, either by considering them when booking a restaurant or planning a meal. Your loved one may prefer to plan ahead to help avoid any last-minute issues, so sending menus in advance will ease this anxiety.
Don’t get mad if they cancel plans
Flare-ups can happen at a moment’s notice, which makes planning for the future difficult for those with IBD. Chances are, your loved one is disappointed to cancel last minute so validating their situation is important.
Offer reassurance that you understand their need to cancel and that they aren’t letting you down. You can always reschedule and make plans when they feel better.
Keep them up to date with missed events
Missing out on social events can make us feel very alone and left out. There’s nothing worse than having not been present for a ‘had to be there’ moment or to celebrate with friends.
But keeping your loved ones in the loop is better than not involving them at all. It helps them to feel part of the group and not to resent themselves or their condition.
This is even more important when it comes to school or work. While their teachers or managers should be accommodating, it can still feel very unnerving to miss important events where attendance is so valued. Sharing notes and having a catch-up is a great way to help your loved one stay connected.
Listen if they need to talk
Feeling validated and understood is important to all of us, particularly when you have a lifelong condition.
Listening to your loved one when they want to talk is incredibly powerful. While it may feel uncomfortable to hear their pains, worries or upset, just know that in doing so you are creating space for them to be heard.
Remember you don’t need to hold the answers. Simply knowing that you are there to support them is enough. It’s also important to avoid dismissive statements such as comparing it to your issues or trying to find the good in the bad.
Offer practical help when they have a flare-up
IBD can cause a variety of uncomfortable or painful symptoms from severe cramps to tiredness and diarrhea. As well as this, many patients will need to see doctors and specialists more than the average person, so fitting in appointments can be difficult.
Supporting your loved one with day-to-day practicalities is a simple way to reduce their worries. This could be helping with chores, looking after pets, doing shopping or making meals.
Those with fatigue can also find it difficult to get up and about. Motivating them to do light exercise may help them to fight tiredness and make it less undesirable.
Help your loved one get support with their IBD
A great way to support your loved one is to get them specialist help that will improve their quality of life.
Here at Crohn’s and Colitis Dietitians, each of us lives with IBD – so we fully understand the day-to-day challenges your loved one goes through. With tailored, evidence-based nutrition plans we can reduce symptoms and make food more enjoyable.
Book a consultation with us today to discover how we can help your loved one to gain control of their IBD.