Practicing mindfulness may ease anxiety, depression, and stress, and improve the overall quality of life for patients with fibromyalgia, a study reports.
The study, titled “Mindfulness is associated with psychological health and moderates the impact of fibromyalgia,” was published in Clinical Rheumatology.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to one’s present experience with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance. Put simply, it’s about becoming aware of something (body, mind, and feelings) in the moment.
The practice can be divided into five dimensions: observing (noticing internal/external experiences), describing (using words to describe experiences), acting with awareness (focusing attention on one’s current activity), non-judging (experiencing thoughts or feelings without judgement or criticism), and non-reacting (allowing thoughts or feelings to come and go without reacting or ruminating).
Evidence suggests mindfulness can lessen discomfort in people experiencing chronic pain, and improve the physical and mental health in different study populations. Although mindfulness seems to contribute to overall well-being, little research has been done to assess how it affects psychological outcomes in fibromyalgia patients.
In the study, researchers performed a secondary analysis of data obtained from a baseline screening evaluation of a single center, randomized clinical trial which compared tai chi to standard aerobic exercise. (Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that combines physical exercise with mindfulness).
Designed by researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine, the clinical trial (NCT01420640, called FMEx) compared the effectiveness of tai chi and standard-of-care aerobic exercise (cardio) in fibromyalgia management.
A total of 226 adults with fibromyalgia were included in FMEx: 75 subjects were assigned to perform supervised cardio exercises (twice weekly for 24 weeks), while the remaining 151 patients were allocated to one of four classical Yang-style supervised tai chi interventions (once or twice weekly for 12 or 24 weeks). Participants were followed for one year.
In the initial screening visit, patients underwent tests that evaluated their general health and functional status, plus physical, psychological, and psychosocial functioning measures.
The same research team took another look at the data to see if mindfulness somehow influences patients’ symptoms, quality of life, and pain interference (how pain affects daily, social, and work-related tasks).
In the subsequent analysis, 177 of the 226 patients were included because they had completed the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, a widely used measure of mindfulness.
“Analyzing mindfulness by individual facet may help us further elucidate the mechanism by which mindfulness impacts health outcomes and will guide future implementation of mindfulness-based mind-body therapies,” the researchers stated.
About 93% of the study sample was female with a mean age of 52 years.
Higher mindfulness was found to be significantly correlated with lower fibromyalgia impact, pain interference (PROMIS-Pain Interference Short Form), stress (Perceived Stress Scale), anxiety, and depression (both assessed by the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale).
Mindfulness was also associated with better mental health-related quality of life, as measured by the 36-Item Short Form Health Survey.
Facets of mindfulness — acting with awareness, describing, and non-judging — were strongly correlated with less fibromyalgia impact, anxiety, depression, and stress, and better quality of life.
In addition, mindfulness moderated the influence of fibromyalgia impact on anxiety, indicating that becoming mindful may alter how patients cope with their condition.
“Future studies should assess how mind-body therapies aiming to cultivate mindfulness may impact the well-being of patients with fibromyalgia,” the team concluded.