Mindfulness meditation and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) can be used across a wide variety of diseases and conditions. Mindfulness is especially helpful as a coping mechanism for living with chronic disease, because it addresses issues of stress thereby helping to improve self-care. I’ve had type 1 diabetes for over 23 years and my 25-plus-year mindful meditation practice has played and continues to play a major role in how I cope with this chronic disease.
Mindfulness techniques like calming the mind, relaxing, being present to what’s actually happening rather than being lost in regrets over the past or worries about the future, can also be directly applied to improving diabetes lifestyle skills, especially eating. Some readers might have heard of mindful eating. Mindfulness works well with people who struggle with food addictions, and with the cravings associated with eating too many processed foods high in salt, sugar, and fat. One such program is Dr. Michele May’s Am I Hungry? mindful eating program. She uses a specific protocol to help people “eat what they love and love what they eat.” Participants deal head on with mindless and emotional eating, and the guilt associated with it.
Mindless eating is especially harmful to people with diabetes, causing blood sugars to constantly spike and plunge.
Many grants from the National Institutes of Health have helped researchers study the benefits of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Studies have shown MBSR increases self-esteem and levels of activity. Originally it was developed as a program at the University of Massachusetts medical program to help patients dealing with chronic pain but eventually expanded beyond pain management to the management of many diseases and conditions, not to mention being used to manage the stress of living and working in the modern world.
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is an adaptation of MBSR, helping people cope with depression resulting from habitual and unhelpful reactions to difficult situations and emotions. A study showed how people with diabetes could use MBCT to deal effectively with emotional distress. It looked at the effectiveness of MBCT group therapy “relative to usual care, for patients with diabetes with regard to reducing emotional distress and improving health-related quality of life and glycemic control.” The results were very positive. “Compared with usual care, MBCT resulted in a reduction of emotional distress and an increase in health-related quality of life in diabetic patients who had lower levels of emotional well-being.”
More hospitals, clinics, and health care organizations now offer mindfulness programs to patients. Mindfulness meditation, MBSR, and MBCT are gaining in recognition as they gain in popularity. It’s clear they are legitimate and effective approaches to dealing with the stress and anxiety that so often accompany life with diabetes.