The benefits of mindfulness are becoming more prevalent in literature. A quick search on social media or Google will reveal not only the importance of practicing mindfulness regularly, but also an abundance of self-led practice videos and articles about the topic.
However, I wish the benefits of mindfulness for those living with a chronic illness were more widely known.
For six years, I have been living with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a progressive lung disease that eventually leads to respiratory failure. Despite the severity of the disease, I’ve been living a meaningful and productive life, which I attribute to the various coping skills I’ve developed over the years. One of those coping skills is practicing mindfulness.
Last week, I wrote a column about how my mood sours when people tell me to rest. While this suggestion is intended to be supportive and kind, I struggle with it, because no matter what I’m doing — whether I’m lying on the couch or walking my dog — my lungs never get to rest. Because of IPF, they are always working harder than my healthy peers’ lungs, and therefore, rest rarely helps me feel better.
When I can’t control how my body feels, I shift my focus to controlling my mind and not letting my thoughts spiral. Living with IPF is difficult, and it’s easy to get lost in negative thoughts, especially during frequent hospitalizations or while using supplemental oxygen as a young adult. As a result, it’s important to identify strategies that can help me control those negative thoughts. That’s where mindfulness can help.
By profession, I am a therapist who works with children and adults, and mindfulness is becoming increasingly useful in psychotherapy. There are a number of ways a therapist can encourage their client to use mindfulness practices to tackle difficulties in their life, such as relationship challenges, anxiety, or depression. People with chronic illness may face similar challenges, so it makes sense for me to practice mindfulness while living with IPF.
Mindfulness involves being present in the moment, but even if we achieve this, it can be easy to forget what we’re grateful for, because chronic illness steals so much.
One way I practice mindfulness is by using a gratitude journal in the morning. Before my day begins and my brain starts to spiral with all of the tasks I need to complete, I try to control my thoughts by focusing on the moment and listing three things I’m grateful for in my journal. Not only does this help me start the day slowly, but it also helps put my mind into a positive space for the day.
A common practice associated with mindfulness is deep breathing, which can help us slow down our thoughts and focus on the present. When I am overwhelmed with the difficulties of IPF, deep breathing not only helps me manage those feelings, but it also serves as an important part of my pulmonary rehabilitation with IPF.
Practicing self-care and self-love
A lesser-known aspect of mindfulness is the importance of practicing self-care and self-love. There have been many times throughout my IPF journey when I disliked how I looked or felt, especially while struggling to breathe among my healthy peers. Being mindful helps me prioritize and become more attuned to my needs, which in turn helps me better care for myself.
Loving myself allows me to put myself first and my disease second. While this may sound cliché, it’s really important to learn to love yourself, despite chronic illness, since it’s easy for a disease like IPF to consume you and become your primary identity.
Extending compassion toward yourself and others is an important aspect of mindfulness. Compassion has been the driver of most of my columns over the years; by sharing my story, I want to help others with IPF live well and learn from my struggles. Mindfulness helps me maintain that compassion, even when the world feels dark, overwhelming, and exhausting.
Do you practice mindfulness as an IPF patient? If so, please share how it helps you in the comments below.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.