Balancing a busy work schedule can be tough for any adult, but for patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, it can be even more difficult.
People who have been diagnosed with IBD may face similar challenges while in the workplace. Manage some of these challenges with the following four tips.
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1. Consider Explaining Your Diagnosis to Your Supervisor
Many patients may find it difficult to talk about their IBD diagnosis at work. You are in charge of how much you share with your colleagues but telling your supervisor about your diagnosis and explaining the symptoms you experience might help you feel more comfortable while at work.
This sharing is completely at your discretion, so don’t feel pressure to be more open than you’re comfortable being. But if you think it will help, try to express your basic needs to your supervisor so you can work together to plan any accommodations you might need.
“I am extremely fortunate to work in healthcare and have coworkers that understand and have taken care of me during an admission,” says Laci Altman, Member of the Planning Committee and Community Expert Contributor for the 2019 IBD U.N.I.T.E. conference, “That said, I am very open and honest with them about how I’m feeling. If I need extra help that day, I ask for it. If I need a bathroom break, I let my coworkers know where I’m going.”
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2. Know Your Rights
People with chronic illnesses that substantially impair a major life activity, such as IBD, are protected by The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990. Its purpose is to provide civil rights protection to individuals with disabilities and to guarantee equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, and other settings.
Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees. This includes any adjustments to a job or work environment to enable the employee with a disability to perform essential job functions.
3. Prepare Ahead for Lunch Breaks with Co-Workers
Lunches can be an excellent opportunity to get to know your colleagues, but for people with IBD who frequently eat restrictive diets, these events can create anxiety. Even the simple task of placing an order can be stressful.
To take advantage of company lunches, prepare ahead of time. If you keep a food diary, you are probably aware of which foods trigger your symptoms. Review the restaurant’s menu online to find meals you can safely eat and call ahead to ask the restaurant staff what they can do to accommodate your diet.
Another classic tradition of the workplace is the potluck lunch. This is a perfect opportunity for someone with IBD, because you can prepare and bring a dish that is safe for you and that you love to eat. That way, you can enjoy eating lunch with everyone without having to worry about the consequences.
4. Practice Stress Reducing Activities
Work can often create a sense of anxiety and stress and can be even more challenging for people with IBD. Stress often triggers IBD symptoms, which leads to more stress and more symptoms.
“My job can be stressful and very emotionally draining, and I try not to take that home with me,” Laci says, “but in a field where caring for others is paramount, sometimes we forget to practice self-care. With IBD, it is very important for me to take care of myself so that I can continue to care for others at work.”
You may be able to end the cycle of stress and symptoms by practicing stress-reducing activities.
These activities vary from person to person but often include the following:
- Support Groups
- Or any other relaxing, enjoyable hobby
Find ways to cool down during the day to help you manage your IBD at work.
About Digestive Disorders
The UPMC Digestive Disorders Center cares for a wide range of gastrointestinal conditions and diseases, from diagnosis to treatment. Upon referral from your physician, we coordinate your testing and treatment. If you have a complicated condition, we can refer you to one of UPMC’s digestive health centers of excellence. Most of our office visits and outpatient procedures take place at UPMC Presbyterian or UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Oakland. We also provide inpatient care at UPMC Montefiore or UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland.