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Maintaining a positive body image when you have a stoma

Stoma surgery can have a huge impact on both your physical and psychological well-being. Living with a stoma can affect your lifestyle and relationships with others. No matter what type of stoma surgery you have undergone or which type of stoma you have as a result, your body has gone through the same significant change and you are left trying to adjust to this change and the ‘new you’. Coming to terms with a new stoma and the need to wear an appliance/bag is a hugely important part of the healing process.

So what is body image? Body image is the mental picture you have of yourself which develops at birth and continues throughout your life. A crisis such as the formation of a stoma, leads to an alteration in body image and this brings an awareness of change in appearance and function of an individual. To explain, each person’s behaviour exists in six domains, physical, psychological, emotional, sexual and economical. When one of these domains is disturbed, such as the physical changes following stoma surgery, the other domains will be influenced in some way, and it will affect that person in many other ways than just the obvious physical element.

Body image affects everyone to some extent. This time of year, can bring joy with warm beginnings of summer, but it can also bring feelings of dread for those of us who would prefer to keep our bodies under wraps. We have become used to hiding beneath several thick layers of winter clothes and feel safe. We become more body conscious in the warmer months and if we are not careful a little body obsessed. But what about those who have just undergone stoma surgery, or those who are further down the road of recovery on their stoma journey, all of whom are managing with their stoma on a day-to-day basis? Learning to love the skin you are in, the scars which can tell a story and the new stoma bag which keeps you busy, is easier said than done and takes time to get used to.

A person’s journey following stoma surgery is a continuous process of adaption. Learning to accept your body after surgery is a very gradual and delicate process. Time is an essential requirement, give yourself plenty of time, time to adapt. Try to be patient and stay positive. Let loved ones and those around you help and support you, talk with them and be honest about how you are feeling. You may have some negative feelings and if so, talk these through with family. Or talk with your stoma care nurse, who will have plenty of experience and is highly skilled in listening and guiding you. Do not bottle these feeling up or ignore them as this could lead to anxiety and depression. Let those people in, who care about you and want to help.

Different ways of managing your feelings:

Think about your stoma in a positive light. Your stoma has been lifesaving and will quite possibly improve your quality of life. Remember you will get back to doing all the activities you loved before your surgery. This may even give you more opportunities and a new freedom which you didn’t have before. Slowly regain your confidence and try to embrace your uniqueness. Try to adapt to the new changes your stoma will bring.

Don’t rush into doing new things to soon, keep to a routine until you are confident that physically you are well and able to manage your stoma care at home and out in public. Take small steps and venture out to places you feel happy and confident with, alongside friends and loved ones. Perhaps trying something new each week to gain confidence slowly.

If people are asking too many questions about your health, surgery and your stoma, reroute the conversation back to them, to relieve the pressure from having to answer personal questions which you may not feel ready for. Have ‘levels’ of answers – those you are close to you may feel more open to sharing with, whilst for more distant acquaintances you may just wish to let them know you are doing well and leave it at that!

Don’t avoid new places or people as this can reinforce a feeling of being looked at in new situations. This is certainly not the case but can feel like this if you avoid it for too long. Whilst you will initially feel very conscious of your new stoma when out and about, you will quickly learn that others cannot notice it, which will lead to your confidence growing.

Try some relaxation exercises, there are plenty of apps available which can take you through meditation and deep breathing which can help you feel an inner sense of calm and control!

Remember there are 120,000 ostomates in the UK – you are not alone on this journey. The feelings you are experiencing, many others will have felt before. You will adapt to this new you….time is the answer.

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