Every day, rheumatology patients live with the realities of having a chronic disease that requires a lifetime of treatment. This knowledge can be an emotional burden, and some people deal with it better than others. Emerging research is showing that those patients who exhibit emotional control are better able to cope and ultimately experience a greater quality of life relative to their treatment. The skill of being able to see past intense emotions, to focus on reality in the moment and to respond unemotionally is known as mindfulness.
The concept—and practice—of mindfulness has been around for thousands of years, and its benefits in medicine are being increasingly recognized. A growing body of research links mindfulness practices to improved outcomes in chronic disease and chronic pain. In rheumatology, studies have shown benefits among patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), fibromyalgia and psoriasis.
The Mindfulness Story
Most commonly associated with Buddhism, mindfulness is also mentioned in the Old Testament, Hindu texts and yogi texts, says AnneMarie Rossi, executive director and founder of Be Mindful, a Denver-based nonprofit that teaches mindfulness to children and young adults, and a recent TED Talks presenter. However, “mindfulness practice doesn’t have to be spiritual. It can be a way to connect to a particular religion, but it doesn’t in any way shape or form have to do that. … For me, it’s exercising to train your brain to have focus, attention and emotional regulation. It’s a way of engaging in the present moment without attachment and without judgment.”
In medicine, mindfulness is a “form of meditation that requires no particular religious or cultural belief system,” according to a paper coauthored by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, the founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts, Worcester.1 Dr. Kabat-Zinn is widely credited with bringing mindfulness to medicine in the form of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which can be learned through training.
“The goal of mindfulness is to maintain awareness moment by moment, disengaging oneself from strong attachment to beliefs, thoughts, or emotions, thereby developing a greater sense of emotional balance and well-being. The original purpose of mindfulness in Buddhism—to alleviate suffering and cultivate compassion—suggests a potential role for this practice with medical patients and practitioners.”1
Benefits in Medicine
Over the past few decades, numerous studies have linked mindfulness practice to improved patient outcomes and quality of life. In fact, there’s enough emerging research that the American Mindfulness Research Association sends out a monthly research bulletin and maintains a database and resource repository in support of mindfulness practices.