Can mindfulness actually help people with rheumatic diseases?
Living with a rheumatic disease not only affects physical health, but can have a significant impact on emotional and mental well-being.
In a recent study, researchers estimated that approximately 2 out of 10 people living with arthritis also have anxiety or depression. In another study published in the British Journal of General Practice, researchers noticed anxiety 20 percent more often in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) than those without.
Mindfulness techniques are increasingly being used in general practice to not only treat anxiety and depression, but for:
- Pain Management
- Stress Reduction
- Improved Coping Strategies
- Enhanced Self-Awareness
- Better Pain Tolerance
- Improved Sleep
- Enhanced Physical Function
- Reduced Medication Dependency
- Long-Term Management
Mindfulness can be defined in many ways, but ultimately it is a mental state which enables you to be present, observe and acknowledge your thoughts and feelings without judging them. A simple way to think of it is training your brain to cultivate attention and acceptance in order to calibrate your mental state and emotions. Implementing mindfulness is really for the purpose of directing our awareness to the present, it is intended to help us accept whatever is going on and it’s also about maintaining an attitude of acceptance, openness, and non-judgment, helping us let go of negative thoughts or feelings and distraction.
For instance, imagine you wake up with morning stiffness, initial reactions might include frustration or worry about how this will affect your day – however, with a Mindfulness approach, you take a few deep, intentional breaths and consciously bring your awareness to the sensation of stiffness in your body. You acknowledge the stiffness is a temporary sensation and it’s a part of your arthritis experience. Instead of resisting it or wishing it away, you offer yourself self-compassion and understanding. By being present with your body and accepting the morning stiffness without judgment, you reduce the emotional stress that often accompanies it
The benefits of mindfulness are endless and the evidence to support the use of mindfulness is growing. Several studies have found that rheumatic disease patients who use mindfulness to improve their mental health, also have improved stress-related behaviours. Stress affects us all differently, but sometimes the way it can impact on us, can negatively impact on symptoms. Mindfulness is becoming more and more important for the purpose of replacing unhelpful stress related behaviours with healthier ones that are going to help us live fuller lives, better manage our symptoms, and mental health to cope better with the condition.
Mindfulness – anywhere, anytime
The beauty of mindfulness is that no matter what you’re doing, what time it is or where you are, there is a way to be mindful, but it requires practice. There are many resources, smart phone apps and websites available that can help you start putting mindfulness into practice on your own with a few simple exercises.
Anytime you find yourself ruminating about the past, or the future, it can be helpful to try to break the pattern by practising some mindfulness, to bring your focus into the present and create some mental space.
Here are a couple of techniques.
- One-minute breathing exercise — Sit with your back straight but relaxed. For the next minute, focus your entire attention on your breathing in and out, how air passes in and out of your nostrils, and how your abdomen rises and goes down with each breath. If thoughts start crowding in, gently let them go and refocus on your breathing.
- Check in with yourself — Bring yourself into the present moment by asking yourself, ‘What is going on with me at the moment?’ You can label your thoughts and feelings — for example, ‘that’s an anxious feeling’ — and let them go. Don’t judge yourself. You may start to feel like more of an observer instead of someone reacting to thoughts and feelings.
- Eat mindfully — When you’re having a meal, focus on your eating. Don’t read or watch TV at the same time. Pay attention to how the food looks, smells and tastes. You may find you enjoy your food more, and stop eating when you’re full instead of automatically finishing what’s on your plate.
If you need a good smartphone app, we have listed 5 of the best mindfulness apps & resources:
- Smiling Mind
- Stop, breathe & think
- Simply being
Taking care of your mental health is an important component of living with a rheumatic disease. Many studies suggests practicing mindfulness can help in coping with the emotional distress — the stress and anxiety — that can often accompany chronic illnesses. If you are interested in learning more about the evidence of Mindfulness & how it works, please do not forget to register for our upcoming webinar on 21 September 2023 or watch the webinar recording.