awareness,  Mental Health

How practicing mindfulness helps my chronic illnesses

Today as part of Disability Pride Month, I thought we would chat about how practicing mindfulness helps my chronic illnesses.

how practicing mindfulness helps my chronic illnesses
Photo by Ryan Byrne on Unsplash
Image description: A person with long hair and holding a cup is seen in silhouette against a bright orange sunset filling the sky

I have lived with chronic illnesses and mental health conditions for most of my life, I always struggled with pain and anxiety even as a child. Through it all I could never seem to find anything that I felt in control of or that I did that would help.

Most of the time, my pain was explained away as ‘growing pains’ and I was told as I got older I would grow out of them. However, by my early twenties my body was struggling and I was having problems with walking and being able to cope with the pain.

As well as this, the thoughts I had were getting worse, leading me to have suicidal thoughts and paranoia. I have since been diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and chronic depression, but everything simply had medication thrown at it with no actual treatment for my illnesses.

Even now, I struggle with knowing that I am merely having symptoms treated and not the illnesses that cause them which makes no sense to me at all!

I would bounce around from therapist to therapist trying to find a way to cope with the frustration and anger that came with finding out my diploma in nursing was useless to me. Being on medication for this and trying to find answers was all consuming and nothing seemed to be helping.

Now, as a side note I have always been spiritual and religious and have never wanted to follow one particular organised religion. Over the years I have tried many religions, including Buddhism as I also practiced yoga as a way to keep my strength.

So, I was used to meditation and breath work and had noticed that both helped calm my thoughts to a point.

Finally, my GP referred me to a six week intensive therapy workshop where the work was done in a group. This was terrifying going alone to be with people and potentially talk, but I was determined to throw myself in and try everything.

One week, the therapist spoke about mindfulness and using it not just when meditating but all the time. I felt like a lightbulb clicked on over my head and I felt like suddenly it made sense, I did not have to listen to my brain and all the horrid things it told me!!!!

This was when Mindfulness, and this blog called ‘Blooming Mindfulness, came into my life and changed everything. Now, it was not easy, it took years and I still struggle to keep it for a whole day, but my goodness has it made a difference.

Now, if you are anything like me, you might be wondering well where do I start, how does it work and how to hell do I ignore my thoughts?

Tips for starting Mindfulness:

  • Attach it to an activity – The best advice I ever saw was to attach being mindfulness to small asks during the day. For example, doing the washing up, making a cup of tea, washing your hands. Small regular tasks are the best place to start with really concentrating on the task and not your thoughts, later you can start joining up the tasks like a dot to dot!
  • Be patient – Mindfulness is not something you try a couple of times and then say you aren’t any good at it. This is a practice, it is something you will work on for the rest of your life and still might struggle with it so be patient and stick with it.
  • Pay attention – Mindfulness is not about ignoring your thoughts, it is more like you see them pass by like fluffy clouds as they pass across a blue sky. It is all about not letting them spiral and take over instead of never having thoughts or feelings again.
  • Come back to the breath – Everyone who practices Mindfulness, will have times when their mind takes over and they didn’t notice. When this happens, don’t judge or criticise yourself, instead just come back to paying attention to your breath.
  • Meditate as well – Every morning just sit quietly for five minutes, you can have on a meditation from apps like Insight Timer. But meditation is like a palate cleanser after a night spent dreaming and not paying attention all the time.

Now, this is all well and good but you might be wondering how practicing mindfulness helps my chronic illnesses? Because I am not just talking about my mental health but also my physical.

How practicing mindfulness helps my chronic illnesses:

  • Yoga Nidra – you can find these anywhere you find your meditations and they are long, designed to be used for naps and long relaxation. They are like detailed stories that can be used so easily so rest to when fatigued, and many are used to help illness. I use them a lot for when I need an afternoon nap and do not feel up for doing anything else but listening and they are amazing for naps without nightmares!
  • Pain – there is a theory that pain is just the body trying to tell us something is wrong, so using medication to dull it is ignoring it. So, being mindful to the pain, giving it attention and listening to what it is saying could be a better way of treating it. I do not recommend this for unbearable pain, however for the little niggling Fibromyalgia pain it is amazing! Just feeling that pain and breathing into it, which is a meditation and yoga practice, it is a game changer and had really helped without me needing extra medication.
  • Those nasty thoughts – I have a lot of intrusive thoughts, and paranoia, these when not paid attention to can be so overwhelming. Mindfulness helps me catch those thoughts and see the trigger much sooner meaning I have fewer flares of my mental health. It also helps me to understand my brain a bit more and deal with triggers and trauma in a healthier way.

Mindfulness has changed my life, which is why this blog is called this and why I constantly talk about it because it has helped me so much. Being a person struggling with mental and physical health I know we constantly get told to try yoga and it will cure you…

But mindfulness is not a cure, you will still have those thoughts, that pain, and fatigue, but this is a tool that can be used to help us get control back.

So, if you are a long time reader, or new to my blog and asking but how does mindfulness help my chronic illnesses, now you know! It is hard, and it is tiring, but it is worth it to know I am doing my best every moment of the day and it puts the control back into my hands.

Thank you xx

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