Navigating the Social Setting with IBD
The unpredictable symptoms that come with having Crohn’s or Colitis can make navigating social situations uncomfortable and sometimes awkward.
Having an Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) can be challenging in more ways than one. The unpredictable symptoms that come with having Crohn’s or Colitis can make navigating social situations uncomfortable and sometimes awkward. Possible flare-ups and other symptoms may make you nervous about going out, but don't let that stop you. It is important to allow yourself moments of indulgence and enjoyment.
Having a social support system is very important for those living with any chronic illness. Maintaining social relationships can help alleviate some feelings of isolation that can often accompany living with IBD. A bit of advanced planning will help you feel more at ease to enjoy that work event, dinner party or date.
Eliminate the Stigma
When it comes to being in a social situation when dealing with IBD, feelings of isolation may arise since your symptoms may not be outright apparent to others.The invisible symptoms of pain and fatigue may make it hard for you to be understood and supported by others who may not know what you are dealing with.
The best way to improve these feelings is to talk about your illness and educate friends, family, and coworkers about the challenges you face. It is important they understand what it means to be living with this chronic illness and how you manage your symptoms. Surrounding yourself with others who understand what you deal with on a day-to-day basis will make them more likely to help accommodate you when it comes to planning social outings.
Set Your Expectations
Before your outing, talk to your social group about the potential for last-minute changes in your plans or if you may need to leave the social gathering early. You will feel more at ease if the individuals with you understand your unpredictable situation and why your plans shifted.They are more likely to be supportive if something arises that requires you to leave the gathering early.
It can be not easy to RSVP to events in advance when you don’t know how you will feel when the date arrives. If you know the host well enough, tell them how much you are looking forward to their event and hope you feel well enough on the day you attend.
If possible, be the one to suggest a certain restaurant that you know serves meals that are aligned with your needs. This may ease some of your anxiety and allow you to relax and enjoy your time more.
To help put your mind at ease when going to a new restaurant, research the menu in advance and come up with your strategy for what you are going to order. Call ahead with specific questions about the menu or to discuss how a particular dish is prepared.This way, the pressure is off when you arrive, and you can relax more without stressing about what to order.
If you are unable to find something on the menu that suits your dietary needs, don’t be afraid to ask if they can customize a menu item to accommodate you better. Most places would be happy to prepare a simple meal for you if it means having a happy and healthy customer.
If you are concerned about finding a restroom quickly while dining out, search out the bathroom locations when you first arrive so you know where the closest one is. If you are going to a larger venue or an outdoor festival, you may want to consider using an online tool or app to give you the locations of the nearest restrooms. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation has created the “We Can’t Wait” app to help users locate publicly accessible restrooms. Through the Foundation or through Girls with Guts, you can also get a free restroom access card that will allow you to discreetly ask for access to a restricted restroom if you have urgent symptoms.
Dinner Parties and the Holidays
Being invited to dinner parties and holiday gatherings can be stressful when you are unsure of what food is being served. Talk to your healthcare provider or dietitian to help tailor a personalized plan for you. Below are several ideas to help navigate mealtime during gatherings to help you enjoy yourself.
- Eat a snack before the event. Avoid showing up to a party hungry, as it can cloud your judgment and lead to poor food choices. By eating a little something ahead of time, you can eat a simple meal while out and not be overly hungry.
- Offer to bring a dish. If you know the host well enough, call ahead and ask if you can bring a dish that will complement what is being served. That way, you can get a heads up on what foods to expect and can plan ahead. By bringing your own dish, you know that at least something on the table will meet your dietary needs.
- Take portion size into account. Oftentimes, larger meals will be harder on your digestion, so consider eating smaller portions spaced out over time instead of one large meal.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Mixing alcohol with foods that may be out of your regular routine can increase your chance of an upset stomach. Consider bringing your flavored sparkling water or other beverage you will enjoy.
- Consider being the host. You can host a potluck and contribute a few dishes that meet your dietary needs. This ensures some dishes are a safe choice. Also, everyone gets to bring something they enjoy as well.
The beginning of a new relationship is exciting, but you may be nervous sharing your struggles with someone you just met. When it comes to dating, decide when you are comfortable letting your date know about your IBD and the overall state of your health. You may not want to bring it up on a first date and wait until the relationship becomes more serious. Or you may choose to be very upfront with the person from the start so that they understand how your symptoms may dictate what sort of venue or activities your outing may entail. You can share as little or as much detail as you are comfortable. Letting your new partner in on what is a huge part of your life helps to tease out if that person will be understanding and supportive in the long term.
Give Yourself Permission to Rest
Socializing can be very fatiguing, so build that into your weekly plan. If you know you will go out on a Friday night, keep your Saturday schedule flexible. It is important to allow yourself extra rest to regain your energy. Let go of guilt if plans need to be canceled at the last minute. Your health is your priority, and it’s important to not worry about what others might think. Know that you are giving your body and mind the rest it needs at that moment. These simple tips may help you enjoy your time with friends and family more with less stress over what to eat and how it may make you feel.
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