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Living With IBD: Surviving the Holidays

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The holidays are here and with them come parties and social gatherings.

It's a time when many of us feel overwhelmed, but if you're one of the 1.6 million Americans living with IBD—or inflammatory bowel disease—it can be a downright miserable season. 


"IBD is a chronic illness and it's more than a tummy ache. The best thing a family member can do is respect their loved one's boundaries."


Parties and family events during the holidays are often centered around rich foods and alcoholic beverages, which can trigger flare-ups. Add in the extra stress—which is also a trigger—and the holidays can be painful and uncomfortable for patients living with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, the 2 types of IBD.

"It's normal for people with IBD to struggle during the holidays," says Amy Mann, licensed clinical social worker in the Cedars-Sinai Inflammatory Bowel Disease program.

"There's so much rich food and people you might not spend a lot of time with; it's important to take care of yourself and your needs."



Avoiding holiday flare-ups

Amy says there are things patients can do to prepare for these stressors ahead of time. Use these tips:

  • Bring extra medications and keep them on you. If you're flying, don't check your medications. Instead pack them in your carry-on. 
  • Make time for yourself and do things that can help you stay calm and relaxed. This can mean going for a walk, taking a break from the crowd, meditating, doing yoga, listening to your favorite podcast, or reading a book. "It's OK to say to your family, 'I need an hour alone,'" Amy says. "Go in another room and take that time for yourself."
  • Exercise and make sure you're getting enough sleep. Try to maintain as much of your normal routine as possible.
  • Set expectations for your family. Don't be afraid to tell them you're not feeling well or let them know you won't be eating something ahead of time.


Supporting family members with IBD

It's also important for family members to be supportive and understanding if their loved one is struggling. 

"This is a disease that not only affects a patient, it affects the whole family," Amy says.

"IBD is a chronic illness and it's more than a tummy ache. The best thing a family member can do is respect their loved one's boundaries."

Amy has these tips for family members:

  • Be understanding if your loved one needs to eat different food or abstain from drinking. 
  • Don't offer unsolicited advice, criticize their food choices or ask, "Should you be eating that?" 
  • Don't disregard their need for time alone or take it personally. 
  • Don't constantly ask how they're feeling or question why they aren't feeling better. 
  • Minimize stress and fights. 

If you find yourself needing a little extra support, visit our IBD support group for patients, parents, spouses, and family members.