September 10, 2021
Whether it’s recurring pain or an illness such as hypertension, diabetes or cancer, a chronic health condition can make just getting through the day difficult, and when you add pressures like work and demands at home, the challenges may feel like too much to handle.
If you live with a chronic health issue, you’re not alone. According to the National Health Council, in 2019 133 million Americans, more than 40 percent, were living with a chronic disease, and the report estimated that the number would continue to rise over time.
Despite the physical issues, financial strain, and other stressors that often accompany a chronic condition, a growing amount of research points to the benefits of mindfulness in helping people cope with and manage their conditions. In fact, a 2016 study from the University of Wisconsin found that a long-term practice may reduce stress reactivity and could even have a therapeutic benefit for some chronic inflammatory conditions.
Mindfulness for Chronic Conditions
Mindfulness can be a powerful tool in helping you change your relationship with your chronic condition. While living with a chronic illness can be quite difficult, mindfulness has the potential for helping you acknowledge the difficult emotions and offer yourself some kindness and compassion. Mindfulness practice, which can range from meditation to being present and aware while washing dishes, can help you take a pause, have a moment for self-care and provide clarity about what’s most important as opposed to an emotionally triggered impulsive reaction.
Daily mindfulness practice benefits people in multiple ways:
· Time dedicated to self-care and compassion. By taking time to practice mindfulness, you’re taking time to do something good for yourself and give kindness and compassion to yourself and others. Just as you would take care of a friend or loved one who is in pain, you need to also find time to take care of yourself. Self-compassion has even been shown to lower the stress hormone cortisol and release the positive hormone oxytocin and lead to an improvement in overall well-being.
· A sense of gratitude. When you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness, it can be easy for negative feelings to overshadow all the good things in your life. Part of mindfulness practice can be to find and express gratitude, remembering and actively recognizing all of the big and little moments, people and even physical things that you’re thankful for. Whether it’s family and friends, a comfortable home, or even sunshine and good food, mindfulness practice can help you bring gratitude forward.
· Acceptance of what is. When it comes to managing your condition, some days will be easier than others. Mindfulness helps you to accept what is and to do it without judgment by encouraging you to be curious about your thoughts and emotions. Chronic illness or pain can make it difficult to know what each day will bring, but bringing mindful awareness to your mind and body can make each day more manageable.
Mindfulness Benefits the Body
In addition to mindfulness strengthening inner awareness, studies show the benefits of regular mindfulness practice can extend to physical health too.
From lowering high blood pressure and the risk of heart disease to reducing inflammation and even showing benefits for cancer patients, scientists have proven that mindfulness practices such as meditation can actually reduce your risk of disease or help minimize the severity of some conditions.
For chronic pain, many studies have pointed to the ability of mindfulness to reduce pain severity and, in some instances, help people with chronic pain reduce their reliance on medications.
Start Managing Chronic Pain Mindfully
Like most things in life, mindfulness takes practice. The more you do it, the more benefits you will experience. But the good thing is that mindfulness can be practiced at any time and can fit into your busy schedule. It’s also a simple and proven way to manage chronic pain without medication.
If you’re interested in learning more mindfulness practices to help you live well with chronic conditions, there are multiple live and on-demand programs, including Living Well with Chronic Pain and Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery. Join us and discover the benefits of mindfulness for improving your overall well-being!
Written by Liz Rosenblum