3 Ways To Embrace Mindfulness With Chronic Illness
Fatigue, people tell me, is one of the worst symptoms of axial spondyloarthritis. It's seemingly never-ending and affects us all in sneaky, all-encompassing ways. Did laundry and then cleaned the house? Exhausted like you ran a marathon. Simply took a walk? Naptime (even though a nap rarely cures the fatigue). It sucks. I'm 34; I shouldn't be this tired — and yet I am.
Fatigue, my old friend
Sometimes I feel particularly more exhausted when not just my body but my brain is on overdrive. If I'm answering emails and juggling a to-do list and writing an article and posting to social media (or doom-scrolling it, as you do), it's like suddenly I become a zombie. The brain fog takes over and my body becomes a proverbial "empty" tank. It's the same-old, same-old — fatigue, my old friend.
Here's where mindfulness comes in. According to a 2020 study, Understanding fatigue‐related disability in rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis: The importance of daily correlates, people with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis benefited from mindfulness and meaningful activities. Among the benefits? Reduced fatigue.
The study extract writes, "On days when participants were more engaged in valued activities or more mindful, they reported less disability due to fatigue, even when controlling for levels of fatigue and pain that day."1
The study also says — and it's so validating to hear it: "Psychological models of disability suggest that the experience of fatigue alone is not enough to lead to disability but rather it is patients’ emotional and behavioral reaction to fatigue that influences its impact on daily life."1
The study has the 97 surveyed patients to "be open and consciously in contact with the present moment, and to change or persist in behavior when doing so serves one’s goals and values.”1 It also asked the patients to accept their thoughts and feelings, and to commit to actions that were guided by "personal values and goals, rather than by difficult thoughts, feelings, and physical symptoms."1 In other words, it asked them to be proactive, aware, and mindful about their own self-talk.
The thing is, even medication doesn't always stop the fatigue, which is why we have to take some action. My favorite mindfulness activities are below — things I have started doing recently to great benefit.
I got off social media all the damn time
Honestly, I didn't realize how badly this was zapping my energy and presence. Just deleting Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram was like lifting an anvil off of my shoulders. Not being beholden to an app that is addictive, making us scroll mindlessly, is a gift. Not reaching for my phone every time I need to "kill time" has meant I'm actually present for time itself. This enables me to be more mindful, to enjoy being present in whatever I do.
I got into nature
Taking a walk through the park or simply sitting on a bench surrounded by trees can do wonders for our psyche. It's called earthing, and sitting mindfully in the reach of nature — contemplating its scents and colors and ancient wisdom — taps us into presence. Studies show it can help reduce cortisol (which can also help us feel better) and reduce inflammation.
I started journaling more
I've been a fan of journaling for a while now; when I discovered its benefits, I stuck to it very regularly. When I journal about my feelings, I give them a vessel and let them go (or, at the least, they don't haunt me). I can put my anger, frustration, and whatever else onto the page. This allows me to be present and to focus my energy and then have the autonomy to walk away from it when I'm done.
Can you tell when a flare is coming?