By: Jennie Crooks, MSW Candidate 2016
Mindfulness – or intentional, nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment– is regularly used in a variety of mental health treatments. Yet recent mindfulness research has shown that this particular way of paying attention also has a wide variety of physical health benefits. Whether you’re managing arthritis pain or living with type 2 diabetes, integrating mindfulness into your care plan can enhance your journey to health.
Chronic Pain and Mindfulness
One in 3 people are estimated to suffer with chronic pain, a condition associated with increases in depression and anxiety and decreases in quality of life. Mindfulness helps curtail reactions to pain that might indeed amplify the experience of pain. And, it is associated with activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows heartrate and settles you down. It’s no wonder that mindfulness has been used to treat painful chronic conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia.
Studies examining the effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) show that patients may benefit when employing mindfulness techniques by changing the way symptoms are experienced. Patients with arthritis showed the most improvements in their quality of life in a study examining patients with different types of chronic pain.
Potential long-term benefits for female patients with fibromyalgia who have integrated mindfulness-based interventions have been indicated in recent studies. Even after three years, female patients who participated in the MBSR group appeared to have reduced pain. Mindfulness practice doesn’t only change our experience of pain, but also our relationship to pain.
Breast Cancer and Mindfulnes
Next to skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women. Washington state has the fourth highest incidence of breast cancer in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy as a form of follow-up care has been shown to be more effective than a traditional breast cancer support group. Participating in an eight week MBSR group has been shown to reduce sleep disturbances in breast cancer patients. And Mindfulness-Based Recovery Groups have been shown to be more effective than non-mindfulness-based support groups in reducing stress and improving quality of life and social support. Mindfulness does not provide a cure, but is a tremendous support in the fight against a disease that can impact the body and mind.
Mindfulness does not provide a cure, but is a tremendous support in the fight against a disease that can impact the body and mind.
Diabetes, Gestational Diabetes and Mindfulness
Roughly 90 percent of the more than 30 million Americans living with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. Patients with diabetes are at greater risk for other health conditions like diabetic nerve damage, kidney disease, stroke, HHNS, or depression. Using MBSR as an intervention for patients with type 2 diabetes resulted in patients with lower rates of depression than a control group. Preliminary research on mindful eating and yoga as a treatment for pregnant women with gestational diabetes showed health benefits on glycemic control.
Additional Research About Medical Benefits of Mindfulness
- Mindfulness helped improve quality of life in patients with asthma, though it did not change lung function.
- MBSR is an effective treatment to help patients with HIV manage Antiretroviral Therapy (ART)-related side effects.
- Mindfulness is beneficial to maintaining memory in aging populations.
- Mindfulness-based psychoeducation improves symptoms and depression in patients with chronic heart failure.
- Hypertension is successfully reduced by participating in a MBSR group.