As any chronically ill person can relate to, there were times during my illness that pushed me past my breaking point. I needed to find a way to cope with the pain and stress of my autoimmune disease when conventional treatment wasn't helping. After some research I tried meditation. At first it was difficult and I found my mind filled with thoughts, but the more I practiced the easier it became. Meditation brings you beyond your suffering to a place of peace and silence. It helps calm your mind and as a result your body. When I was experiencing terrible pain, unbearable symptoms, stressful social outings or upcoming doctors visits, meditation would help me temporarily escape so I could better handle the situation or symptom at hand.
Meditation allows for you to respond to the stress that results from your illness instead of reacting to it. I found myself in a habit of letting my illness consume all aspects of my life. The clarity I got from using meditation helped me break that habit. It's so easy to get caught in the cycle of stress from your symptoms. It's a viscous circle that takes a mindset change to break out of. When researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD sifted through nearly 19,000 meditation studies, they found 47 trials that addressed those issues and met their criteria for well-designed studies. Their findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.
As philosopher and psychologist William James said, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” Having the ability to sort thoughts between helpful or destructive could be the difference between healing and not. When you're chronically ill, thoughts filled with anxiety and sadness can become the only ones you experience. I would always live in a world of worst case scenarios. I remember obsessing over the fact that I wouldn't have the ability to be a good mom to my future kids, or that I would lose my close relationships. Thoughts like these were destructive in my life and I became very insecure and unsure of myself. Using meditation helped me have appropriate thoughts and actions in response to the challenges from my illness.
Change in Mindset
The repetitive pattern I was in meant I needed a change in mindset. The definition of mindset is, "the established set of attitudes held by someone". Having the attitude of negativity towards your chronic illness prevents you from living a whole life. If you fight against acceptance of your diagnosis, your mindset will remain focused on all you feel you cannot do. I would often spend all of my time focused on trying to suppress the thoughts I was having. Which ending up making them stronger and more controlling. By focusing and rationalizing these thoughts by being in a calm and more stable mindset I was able to realize how destructive these thought processes were and eliminate them.
So now that you see how helpful meditation can be, how do you actually practice it?
How To Meditate
Since I am no meditation expert these tips are more of a way on how to get started meditating and actually stick with it. You don't have to sit any special way or say a special words. You can start with just sitting on your couch or a comfy chair.
Just start with 2 minutes a day, every day, for one week. Set a reminder on your phone, because it's easy to forget. So after you're comfortable, count your breaths. Turn attention to your breathing, try counting one as you inhale and two as you exhale. Don't worry if your mind goes to other things, because it's almost inevitable. Don't see these thoughts as a mistake or a failure, just practice focusing your attention. Try to come back after your mind wonders. When you notice it happening simply gently return to your breath.
It can be helpful to do a scan of your body. Meaning you focus on your feet, how to they feel? Try relaxing them. Now move to your calves and do the same. Slowly move from the bottom of your feet, all the way to the top of your head.
If you want some help when you're just starting out, using guided meditation can be a really good place to start. It gives you something to focus your mind on. During guided meditation you usually listen to a recording of a voice that guides you through your meditation.
Meditation isn't always easy, but it has some truly amazing benefits. As someone who's struggling with a chronic illness you probably have a lot on your shoulders. By simply adding meditation to your routine you can relieve some of the tension in your life and start your healing journey.