Mindfulness helps people with long-term medical conditions better manage their lives, finds new research

A simple brain training technique is helping people with long-term medical conditions manage their diagnosis better than those who do not, according to new research.

Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to and focusing on what is happening around you at that moment. It is a simple form of meditation which is meant to focus the mind away from negative thoughts and dwelling on the past.

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Dr Jaqui Long, of De Montfort University Leicester (DMU)’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, interviewed patients who had undergone an eight-week course in mindfulness to discover whether it had been beneficial – and the overwhelming response was that it had. All of those interviewed had been following the programme for at least a year.

Dr Long said: “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?

“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.”

Dr Long worked with the Manchester organisation Breathworks on the study, which formed the research element to her postgraduate thesis. The patients who responded had a variety of conditions, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, cancer, depression and anxiety and fibromyalgia.

Breathworks runs an eight week course called Mindfulness for Health, combining elements of cognitive behaviour therapy with practice of kindness and compassion for people living with pain or long-term health conditions.

Through one to one interviews and focus groups, she was able to discover that a common theme for those who praised mindfulness. They said kindness and compassion were key factors.

Dr Long’s study, Starting Where I Am, was published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.

Most people were absolutely passionate about the difference which it made. Only a couple of people said the method did not work for them. For some people it made a profound difference, for others it adjusted what they did.  

While being mindful did make them more aware of pain or a symptom of their condition it also helped them be open to something good happening and they had the choice to focus on the good. Many people spoke of trying to negotiate a balance in their feelings.”  
 
Gloria, a participant living with a long-term condition, said of learning mindfulness: “It’s just made me happy, it’s made me want to live and embrace life. I’ve realised that wallowing on my condition won’t help and I don’t think I would have got there without meditation.”

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Colin Duff, Breathworks Business and Research Manager, said: "It has been a great opportunity to be part of the 'Starting Where I Am' study.  Research is vital in building an evidence base to demonstrate and communicate the benefits of mindfulness as a health intervention, which we have seen in the improved lives of participants over many years.  This study strongly suggests that the Mindfulness for Health programme can be a supportive intervention for people living with, and coming to terms with, long-term health conditions.”

The findings of ‘Starting Where I Am’ confirm that mindfulness can offer a valuable self-management intervention, enabling significant long-term changes in how people cope with and manage a range of physical and mental health conditions.

Dr Long said: “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.”

Posted on Friday 30th September 2016

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