A researcher at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU)’s School of Nursing and Midwifery found that the practice of mindfulness helps people with long-term medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, to manage their diagnosis.
Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training.
Large population-based research studies have indicated that mindfulness practice is strongly correlated with well-being and perceived health. Studies have also shown that rumination and worry contribute to mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, and that mindfulness-based interventions are effective in reducing such tendencies.
To explore how practicing mindfulness affects people’s experiences of living with a long-term illness, Dr. Jaqui Long and colleagues interviewed patients who had undergone an eight-week course in mindfulness. All of those interviewed had been following the program for at least a year, part of Long’s PhD thesis.
“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?” said Long in a news 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.”
Long collaborated with Breathworks, a Manchester, U.K.-based organization that provides the mindfulness program. The final patient group was composed 41 adults with diverse physical and/or mental health conditions, including multiple sclerosis, cancer, Parkinson’s, depression and anxiety, and fibromyalgia.
Through interviews and focus groups, participants predominantly reported that mindfulness provided them positive experiences, and almost all identified significant changes in thinking and behavior. Long found that kindness and compassion were key factors for those who praised mindfulness.
Most participants were passionate about the difference that mindfulness made in their lives, she said, although a couple said the technique did not make a difference in coping with their conditions.
While being mindful did make participants more aware of pain or a symptom, it also helped them to be open to something good, and they had the choice to focus on positive things. Many of the participants “spoke of trying to negotiate a balance in their feelings,” Long added.
The findings indicate that mindfulness can be conceptualized as a facilitator of transition, enabling people to adapt to living with a long-term condition, and that this transition is associated with improved, self-directed management, important to both people with long-term conditions and healthcare providers.
“Developing and living with a long-term condition can have a huge impact on a person’s quality of life. 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,” concluded Long.