Many of the patients I spoke to suffered from chronic diseases and syndromes related to or exacerbated by stress, such as rheumatoid arthritis, IBS, and types of IBD, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These conditions currently cannot be cured, and there are only treatments that control, either by slowing progression or minimizing symptoms and complications. If patients are unable to manage their symptoms, they may get worse. In particular, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) causes patients to be more prone to stress and an inability to sufficiently manage this stress can further worsen the severity of the disease. Even if the cause of stress was not medicine-related, it had the same exhausting effect.
Mindfulness is a helpful and effective method of reducing stress and maintaining overall wellness, and can be easily personalized and practiced. The increased focus gained from regular mindfulness practice can also be invaluable in everyday life, by encouraging higher productivity. Guided meditations on apps or websites can be quickly reached if users are aware of mindfulness and its many benefits.
When speaking to patients, I found that many of them had never heard of mindfulness before. However, everyone was willing to talk about how they could start using mindfulness in their own lives, and participated in a mindfulness exercise. Even giving them basic information was enough to pique their interest, and several patients asked for more resources, such as books, websites, and apps, to continue looking into mindfulness on their own or to share it with others.
Although a few were familiar with the concept, no one I conversed with was practicing mindfulness. Due to the wide variety in the backgrounds of the patients, I was able to approach the topic of mindfulness from a range of different perspectives. For example, one patient talked with me about her spirituality and its connection to mindfulness and meditation, as well as opportunities for her and her community to be mindful. Another patient and I discussed how to bring mindfulness into her home, and focused on introducing her kids to it, in order to help them with concentration during their studies. One person who was familiar with basic meditation and breathing exercises was more interested in the aspect of mindfulness that encourages being present and aware in the moment, so she could use those concepts in conjunction with a mindfulness app she already had. I also spoke to a swimming coach about mindfulness in the context of sports teams, and ways to implement daily mindful practices.
To remind the patients to take a moment every day, I distributed magnets so they could see the word “mindfulness” and remember the practices, and so the patients could encourage their coworkers and families to think about being mindful in the moment.
Thank you to the CSGC for funding Mindfulness and Medicine, and allowing me to spread information about mindfulness and its connection to health, particularly stress, to a population who will benefit from practicing and sharing.
“Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 18 Nov. 2017, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/inflammatory-bowel-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20353315.