One tip for avoiding IC flares is to manage stress. It’s right up there with diet and hormones when it comes to triggering IC symptoms. But there are times stress not only can’t be avoided but it kicks us in the face. Unfortunately, crises happen in life. We lose loved ones. We lose our main income. We lose our home. The list can go on and on. When bad news comes and our lives turn upside down, we’ve got to know how to best care for ourselves and for our IC. While high stress can cause IC flares, there are ways to help prevent them or lessen their severity.
1. Give yourself a pep talk.
I know that sounds silly and perhaps a bit trite but taking a deep breath and reminding ourselves that we will get through this difficult time one step at a time is helpful. It helps us gain a bit of perspective that we need only take one step at a time and not get overwhelmed.(1)
2. Feel all the feels.
When a crisis strikes, we’re going to have feelings. Tamping those feelings down deep inside is only going to lead to more stress. Yes, there are times we have to put feelings aside to deal with the reality of the situation, but find the time and a safe space to let your feelings out. Have a good cry to help release some of the pain.(2)
3. Be careful with your diet.
If you know that you have extra risk factors for an IC flare going on, then take care of the other risk factors for a flare as much as you can. While it might be tempting to “cheat” on your IC diet when you’re emotional and upset, don’t. This isn’t the time to be risky, because the only thing worse than dealing with a crisis is dealing with one in the midst of crippling pain.If you are in a situation where you don’t have as much control over your food and drink, then make the best choices you can. By all means, drink more water to help dilute your urine and consider trying Tums, Prelief or a large glass of water with 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in it to help counteract acid.(3)
4. Get enough rest.
Sleep can be hard during difficult times, but not getting enough sleep can flare your bladder symptoms and wreak even more havoc on your emotions. Do what you can to create a calm environment that will help you rest. Play peaceful music, utilize relaxation techniques, pray or meditate to help relax yourself before going to bed.(1)
5. Have your flare strategies in place.
Think about what helps you during a flare like a heating pad or pain medication (OTC or prescription) and keep those items handy. If you are having to travel, make sure you pack your flare relief items even if you are not experiencing a flare. Think about how you’re going to handle the logistics of a situation as well. For example, if you have lost a loved one and are attending calling hours and services, think about how you can get off your feet for a while in the midst of it all.
6. Know your limits and prioritize accordingly.
While it would be nice to not have to worry about IC during the midst of a life crisis, that just isn’t the case for us. Know what your limits are. Can you stand and greet people for four hours at the mortuary? Can you carry heavy boxes during an evacuation? Most likely not. Don’t be afraid to say no for your own health and wellbeing. You are worth it! Decide what is important to you during your crisis situation and do what you need to make that happen, even if it means saying no to something else.(4)
7. Find someone to listen to you.
Part of managing times of high stress and feeling all your feelings is working through them with loving support from someone else. Find a person you love and trust who will listen to you as you work your way through an exceptionally difficult time. Along with just helping you feel better and get through the situation, sharing about what’s happening with someone else actually helps us begin to accept what is going on.(1) If you don’t have someone in your life that you can trust who will listen to you, consider seeing a therapist, even for a short time, to help work through your feelings.In conjunction with talking to someone else, try writing down your feelings in a journal to help you process them and all that is going on.(2)
8. Know when to ask for help.
Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It can be a necessity and a sign of strength. You cannot do everything. Even if you didn’t have IC, you still couldn’t do everything and be everything for everyone. Let go when you can and let others step in to help or even just let some things go completely. And if you are having a difficult time moving forward as time goes on, talk with your doctor or other health professional and determine the best way to help yourself whether that means medication, counseling or both.
9. Take a break when you can.
Getting away from a hard situation for just a brief time can help you be able to regroup and feel better. Go see a movie and sit in comfy seats while losing yourself in someone else’s world for a while. Pick up a book from a favorite author. Make time to watch your favorite television show. Play a game with your kids. Snuggle with your pet. Take a long bath or shower (avoid bubble baths, though, which are irritating to most IC patients).
10. Stay active carefully.
Physical activity can be a good way to help combat the effects of stress on the body; however, be careful you are not doing more harm than good. Bicycle seats put extra pressure on the pelvic floor muscles which can cause a flare and aggravate IC symptoms.(3) Running and using the stair master are also two exercises that patients report as causing pain.(3) Consider gentle stretches, yoga and walks instead.
11. Be good to yourself.
Find a comfortable place in your home. Buy fresh flowers to set on your countertop.(2) Find things that are calming to you and make you happy during normal times. Do them even more during times of high stress. Make time to take care of you in the midst of everything else.
1. Apperson N. Tips for Taking Care of Yourself During Stressful Times. Northern Illinois University Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center website. Dec. 10, 2014.
2. Smouse D. 12 Immediate Ways to Take Care of Yourself When You’re Having a Setback. DebraSmouse.com. April 7, 2016.
3. Osborne J. Managing Interstitial Cystitis Flares. IC Network.
4. Tartakovsky M. Practicing Self-Care During Stressful Times. PsychCentral.com Jul. 8, 2018