Recent studies indicate that mindfulness techniques can soothe the actual brain patterns underlying pain and could contribute to the relief — or at least partial relief — of symptoms of various illnesses and conditions.
Fadel Zeidan (Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre) has found, through research, that mindfulness techniques can reduce pain by a staggering 57%. Hospital pain clinics now also prescribe mindfulness meditation as a way to cope with suffering and pain from a wide range of diseases. These include:
- The side-effects of chemotherapy
- Celiac Disease
- Chronic Fatigue
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
It’s not only pain that can be relieved, though, as even symptoms such as tinnitus (a continuous ringing in the ears) and even chronic tinnitus can be relieved with meditation and relaxation techniques found in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Relief (MBSR).
Jen Johnson of Everyday Mindful, explains that MBSR:
- relaxes your body and quietens your mind
- helps you to take responsibility for your own wellbeing
- helps you to feel calmer and trust yourself
- helps you tocultivate more peace and joy
- let’s you start to enjoy life again
- let’s you meet all of your experience with an open heart and cope more skillfully with your feelings
- let’s you live mindfully and intentionally and choose how your life unfolds.
Here are five diseases and conditions — arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine, celiac disease, and multiple sclerosis — and the ways in which mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation can be used to relieve the symptoms of these conditions and improve overall quality of life.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is actually not a single disease, but is used to refer to a number of joint pain or joint diseases. People of all ages, sexes, and races can be affected and it is also the leading cause of disability in America, arthritis.org notes.
Common arthritis symptoms include:
- Decreased range of motion
The symptoms can remain the same for years or get worse over time. Symptoms can also come and go and can be mild, moderate, or severe. Severe arthritis can result in “chronic pain, inability to do daily activities and make it difficult to walk or climb stairs” (arthritis.org). The resulting damage to the joints, etc. that arthritis cause can also be visible — for instance in the form of knobby finger joints — but many times can only be seen on X-ray.
Osteoarthritis, a degenerative type of arthritis, is the most common type. Other common types are inflammatory arthritis, infectious arthritis, and metabolic arthritis. Arthritis is usually diagnosed by a rheumatologist, but a primary care physician may do a preliminary diagnosis and refer the patient to a rheumatologist. (Source: Arthritis.org)
Kinds of mindfulness techniques used in Arthritis treatment
A particular type of meditation or mindfulness, called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can help people to take control of their pain and can reduce the pain intensity. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), another mind-bind therapy, have also shown to have a positive outcome on the pain levels and intensity experienced.
However, these techniques don’t just replace your treatment plan, but rather add to it to get a better result.
Using mindfulness and relaxation as part of your arthritis treatment plan
Alex Zautra, who was a researcher and professor of clinical psychology at Arizona State University before he passed away, noted that meditation help people with arthritis to cope more effectively with their symptoms.
He further stated that “The problems of these patients go beyond what can be done with medicines and we have to treat them … Pain is not only a physical experience but an emotional one. Learning to manage those emotions is important for people with inflammatory disease” (Meditation: Benefits for People with Arthritis).
However, taking part in meditation or mindfulness, does not mean that you have to do it formally — it can also be done informally, but regularly, to help people cope with their symptoms.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a condition that affects about 4 million US adults (about 2% of the adult population) and its cause is unknown.
The most common symptoms of fibromyalgia are:
- Pain and stiffness all over the body
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Depression and anxiety
- Sleep problems
- Problems with thinking, memory, and concentration
- Headaches, including migraines
- Digestive problems, including IBS
Kinds of mindfulness techniques used in Fibromyalgia treatment
Various studies, including that by Elizabeth Cash et al, in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine (2015), have shown that mindfulness techniques like MBSR “significantly reduced perceived stress, sleep disturbance, and symptom severity” and that the result were maintained as those with fibromyalgia kept on using these techniques.
Mindfulness exercises, doctors suggest in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, may work because they calm the sympathetic nervous system which in turn reduces stress and relaxes the body.
Healthline notes 6 ways in which mindfulness acts on the body and mind:
- It helps patients learn to direct their attention away from the pain
- It inhibits the central nervous system’s ability to perceive pain
- It reduces distressing thoughts and feelings that come with pain, which may stop the pain from getting worse
- It enhances body awareness and could lead to improved self-care
- It promotes deep muscle relaxation which lessens tension and irritability
- It creates a buffer against stress-related symptoms
Mindfulness practises doesn’t need to be only meditation, though, but can also include yoga – in fact, it seems to work better if yoga is added to the care routine.
Using mindfulness and relaxation as part of your fibromyalgia treatment plan
As with using mindfulness as part of arthritis treatment, using it as part of a treatment plan for fibromyalgia can also help people to cope better with the strain that the symptoms of the illness takes on them.
The mindfulness methods used for fibromyalgia is also mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), although, as stated above, yoga can also help to relieve some of the symptoms associated with fibromyalgia.
What is Migraine?
Migraine is defined by Wikipedia as: “a primary headache characterized by recurrent headaches that are moderate to severe.” These headaches are usually on one side of the head, can be described as “pulsating” and last anywhere from 2 to 72 hours.
Other symptoms associated with migraines include:
- Sensitivity to light, sound or smell
- An aura (signal that can be a sensory disturbance that indicates that the headache will soon occur)
Kinds of mindfulness techniques used in Migraine treatment
Because stress can be a trigger for up to 70% of migraine sufferers’ migraines, stress-reduction and relaxation techniques are very important. “Simple mindfulness exercises and relaxation techniques can help alleviate stress, increase calmness and, in some cases, prevent a migraine attack” (Stress reduction and processing techniques to manage migraine).
Different types of meditation can be used to relieve stress if you are prone to migraines. However, you can also use exercises in journaling or another hobby to help reduce stress.
Using mindfulness and relaxation as part of your Migraine treatment plan
Keeping track of your stressors, pain and possible triggers are important, so keeping a daily journal or using daily pain management apps on your smartphone can be rewarding in the patterns that they uncover.
Accompanied by meditation and mindfulness practices, you may find that — in time — you are able to reduce your medication. However, it is of the utmost importance to speak to your physician before making any changes to your medication.
4. Celiac Disease
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac (or Coeliac) Disease is an auto-immune disorder caused by an immune reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.
While only one third of adults with Celiac Disease experience diarrhoea, there are a wide variety of other symptoms, the most common of which include:
- unexplained iron-deficiency anemia
- bone or joint pain
- osteoporosis or osteopenia (bone loss)
- liver and biliary tract disorders (transaminitis, fatty liver, primary sclerosing cholangitis, etc.)
- depression or anxiety
- peripheral neuropathy (tingling, numbness or pain in the hands and feet)
- seizures or migraines
- missed menstrual periods
- infertility or recurrent miscarriage
- canker sores inside the mouth
- dermatitis herpetiformis (itchy skin rash)
(Source: Celiac Disease Foundation)
Kinds of mindfulness techniques used in Celiac Disease treatment
A recent study published in the Journal for Psychosomatic Research showed that those affected by celiac disease tend to show a high prevalence of panic disorder and major depressive disorder.
The mindfulness techniques that are used to relieve the symptoms of celiac disease could also be used to relieve the symptoms associated with the panic disorder and major depressive disorder mentioned.
Mindfulness techniques that can be used include mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), different types of meditation and other easy mindfulness exercises that help you to cope with your feelings and symptoms.
Using mindfulness and relaxation as part of your Celiac Disease treatment plan
As with the other chronic diseases that we’ve already mentioned, the mindfulness techniques that are used won’t cure the disease, but can relieve some of the symptoms and can help you to better cope with the symptoms.
You could work out a treatment plan for your celiac disease with your physician and include mindfulness and mindfulness exercises as a part of your everyday routine to keep symptoms in check and under control.
5. Multiple Sclerosis
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an illness of the central nervous system (CNS), that is to say, the brain and spinal cord. “’Sclerosis’ means scarring or hardening of tiny patches of tissue. ‘Multiple’ is added because this happens at more than one place in the brain and/or spinal cord.” (Source: MS Trust). The illness, though lifelong, is not terminal and is also not contagious or infectious.
Kinds of mindfulness techniques used in Multiple Sclerosis treatment
In the 2014 paper Mindfulness based interventions in multiple sclerosis — a systematic review, the authors note that MS is “a stressful condition; depression, anxiety, pain and fatigue are all common problems”. Mindfulness techniques, it was shown, may benefit some of the multiple sclerosis patients in terms of quality of life, their mental health and even some “physical health measures”.
Using mindfulness and relaxation as part of your Multiple Sclerosis treatment plan
The mindfulness techniques that have been used as part of MS treatments include chair yoga, meditation, breathing exercises and various other mindfulness exercises. “They were able to accept their MS, reduce their stress, and hopefully, improve the quality of their lives”, Dr. Klatt of the Mindfulness in Motion program have noted.
Bonus: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
A 2011 study, Mindfulness Training Reduces the Severity of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Women: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial, showed that mindfulness-based exercises and training could not only reduce the symptoms felt, but also improve quality of life and ease psychological stress and anxiety over time.
Although mindfulness doesn’t work for everyone — or to the same extent for everyone — it is still important to know that this treatment can compliment any treatment that you are already undergoing for these and other chronic diseases and conditions.
Click on our meditation pages to find some ideas to get you started!