A new research study revealed that the practice of mindfulness can help people with long-term conditions better manage their disease and have more control. Patients with conditions like fibromyalgia said they benefited from attending a mindfulness course.
Mindfulness is a simple brain training technique that exercises our ability to pay attention and focus on what is happening around us. It is a form of meditation meant to focus the mind away from negative thoughts and dwelling on the past. The idea descends from Buddhist psychology and advocates remaining “mindful” of where you are, with whom you are, doing what you are doing, and being present in the moment.
The study, titled “Starting where I am: a grounded theory exploration of mindfulness as a facilitator of transition in living with a long-term condition,” was published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, and conducted by researchers at England’s De Montfort University Leicester (DMU)’s School of Nursing and Midwifery.
“I wanted to find out whether, after you have the initial enthusiasm and got your momentum going, what happens two, five, 10 years later? Do you stick with it?” Dr. Jaqui Long, the study’s lead author, said in a press release. “One patient told me: ‘If it had not been for mindfulness, I would not be here. I would have killed myself.’ For some people it had been life-saving, not just life-changing. It’s literally the difference between living and not being able to cope.”
The team collected data based on interviews, diaries, and focus groups from participants and trainers of a mindfulness intervention program developed by the organization Breathworks.
In total, data was collected from 41 participants who had conditions like fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, depression, and anxiety.
Breathworks runs an eight-week mindfulness course called Mindfulness for Health, which combines elements of cognitive behavior therapy with the practice of kindness and compassion for people living with pain or chronic health conditions.
Results showed that, in general, participants of the mindfulness course changed their behavior and perspective on various things, reporting predominantly positive experiences. Participants highlighted becoming more aware of their condition and accepting it, becoming able to care for themselves more effectively.
“Most people were absolutely passionate about the difference which it made. Only a couple of people said the method did not work for them. For some people it made a profound difference; for others it adjusted what they did,” Long said.
“While being mindful did make them more aware of pain or a symptom of their condition, it also helped them be open to something good happening and they had the choice to focus on the good. Many people spoke of trying to negotiate a balance in their feelings,” she said.
“It’s just made me happy, it’s made me want to live and embrace life. I’ve realized that wallowing on my condition won’t help and I don’t think I would have got there without meditation,” said Gloria, a participant with a long-term condition.
The findings of the study confirmed that mindfulness could offer a valuable self-management intervention, enabling significant long-term changes in how people cope with and manage a range of physical and mental health conditions.
The team also found that key factors in the process were kindness and compassion, as reported by the questionnaires’ responses.
“Research is vital in building an evidence base to demonstrate and communicate the benefits of mindfulness as a health intervention, which we have seen in the improved lives of participants over many years. This study strongly suggests that the Mindfulness for Health program can be a supportive intervention for people living with, and coming to terms with, long-term health conditions,” said Colin Duff, Breathworks business and research manager.
“Developing and living with a long-term condition can have a huge impact on a person’s quality of life,” Long said. “Our study has also provided new insights into the complex and ongoing nature of transition which may enable health professionals to support patients more effectively on their journey towards adjusting to life with a long-term condition. We hope that mindfulness as a facilitator of transition and as a self-management tool will be explored further.”