Crohn’s: How It Might Impact Your Work Life and What You Can Do About It

If you’re one of the estimated 700,000 Americans affected by Crohn’s Disease, the definition of workplace stress takes on a whole new meaning. With the painful and debilitating symptoms that accompany this inflammatory bowel disease, staying on top of things at work poses a challenge. A flare-up can create the need to rush to the bathroom, regardless of whether you’re with an important client. Fatigue might cause you to fall short on obligations. Whatever your set of challenges, Crohn’s is likely to impact your work life. Here are some common challenges, along with advice to help you remain successful and productive at work.

You’re Half as Productive as you’d like to be

In a recent survey from Crohn's and Colitis UK and Abbvie Pharmaceuticals, 75% of participants with Crohn’s revealed that they felt the disease had negatively impacted their productivity within the past week.

  • Develop a tailored plan. A nutritionist who specializes in IBD can recommend changes to your diet to help fight fatigue. They may help you create a strategy for getting more electrolytes, and essential energy-supplying vitamins like the all-important Vitamin B into your diet.

  • Don’t overlook mental health. This is true whether you have Crohn’s or not. Adequate sleep and stress management are key. Join a community support group or speak to a therapist. Exercise daily to promote high quality sleep. Keep out of the vicious cycle of poor sleep, fatigue, low productivity, and the ensuing stress that this causes at work.

It’s Creating a Rift

While it’s easy to understand a broken arm, most people are blissfully unaware of the effects of Crohn’s. Without knowledge of your condition, your employer may conclude that you’re simply not motivated to do your best at work. Likewise, colleagues may wonder why you continue to excuse yourself from meetings or are “uninterested” in doing social activities after work.

  • Speak up. No one wins when you keep quiet about your condition. Explain the disease, its effects, and how you’re managing the symptoms to the best of your abilities. You may be surprised to see how your coworkers or boss appreciate your honesty and want to help you to overcome the challenges of managing Crohn’s at work.

  • Know your rights. In the U.S., the Americans with Disabilities Act grants you certain rights once you’ve come clean with your employer about your condition. Not only does it protect you from workplace discrimination, but it also grants you the right to make reasonable requests for accommodation. This might mean more frequent breaks, a more well-stocked bathroom, or even switching from your desk to a telecommute position.

You’re Trapped in Unpredictable Work Cycles

Most workplaces aren’t designed with Crohn’s Disease in mind. The majority of respondents from the aforementioned study say that they work harder at their job to make up for their condition. This leads to a dramatic cycle of low-productivity lulls followed by high-productivity bursts. Needless to say, an inconsistent cycle makes it difficult to maintain a healthy sleep schedule, diet, and social life.

  • Establish routines. Keep track of your symptoms with a chart. Be consistent in your med schedule and dietary routine.

  • Keep supplies at work. To handle a flare-up at work, keep items like extra clothes and antidiarrheal meds in a desk drawer.

  • Use technology! Ask a coworker to record missed meetings. You can also record a meeting where you’re present just in case you need to excuse yourself unexpectedly.

  • Work with your symptoms. Don’t push your body to the extreme. Respect your limits, and work with your symptoms. If you can, save less demanding tasks like reading for times when you’re not feeling well, knocking off demanding tasks while you’re still feeling up to it.

You’re Downsizing your Dreams

In the above study, over half of respondents with Crohn’s said that they felt the condition prevented them from fulfilling their true potential, acting as a “significant hindrance” to career success. Just over 50% agreed that they wouldn’t consider certain careers due to the limitations of the disease.

  • Get inspired. There are dozens of organizations and individuals dedicated to promoting a fulfilling life with Crohn’s. Here’s a recent article that features a list of inspiring professional athletes with Crohn’s.

  • Create clear goals and fuel your dreams. All people become overwhelmed by their circumstances at some point in their lives. Use this time as an opportunity to reevaluate your lifestyle; be unafraid to adapt your dreams according to your ever-changing self. Speak with a life coach about your goals, and create a detailed plan for achieving them. Try meditation, yoga, and nature walks to improve mental outlook. Whatever you do, don’t give up on your dreams—setbacks are a normal part of life.

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