Mindfulness and meditation

Keep calm and carry on.
Easy ways to stay mindful and manage stress when you have a chronic illness.

Life looks pretty different since the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged. With daily routines at a standstill due to social distancing and a constant stream of worrisome news, it’s easy to feel anxious, uncertain and alone. And if you’re living with chronic illness, or caring for somebody who has one, those familiar feelings are likely at an all-time high right now.

But you can learn ways to manage it. Especially if you’re chronically ill, it’s more important than ever to focus on protecting your mental and physical health. Here are some practical ways to cope and stay calm during this stressful time.

  1. Stay connected (even from afar).
    True, we’re social distancing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t connect with others. In fact, it’s essential to your wellbeing to keep the lines of communication open and talk with people you trust about how you’re feeling.1 Thanks to technology, a quick check-in is just a call, text or video chat away. The more you stay in touch with others, the less isolating and scary things will seem.2
  2. Accept how you’re feeling.
    When stressful thoughts take over, try to stop them in their tracks by being mindful of your emotions. When you let negative thinking get out of control, especially if you’re living with chronic health conditions, it can exacerbate your symptoms.3 By acknowledging and accepting your feelings, you can consciously shift your thinking to something more positive and rooted in reality, versus hypothetical “what if” scenarios. Always be kind to yourself and remember that it’s ok to feel whatever you’re feeling.2
  3. Stay active.
    For many chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes and asthma, regular physical movement is an important part of care.2, 6 Exercise is not only beneficial to your physical health, it can also do wonders for your emotional wellbeing, too. That can go a long way in helping you to stay mindful during a stressful time. You don’t need any special equipment. Just keep it simple and do what you’re able to. Go for a walk outside, dance to your favorite music or simply meditate with some deep breaths. Give your body extra TLC with balanced nutrition and plenty of rest, too.1
  4. Limit screen time.
    Constant stimulation from too much screen time can be bad news for your nervous system,2 especially with all the stress-inducing headlines lately. For those with chronic health conditions, stress can worsen your symptoms.2 Be sure to limit scroll time on social media, as well as TV watching. If a certain account or news outlet is making you feel extra anxious, simply unfollow them or take a break from your feed. Only tune into sources that don’t add to your stress
  5. Seek comfort.
    Surround yourself with all the things that make you feel happy. Now’s the time to watch your favorite movie (as many times as you want!), queue up a good podcast, catch up with a friend over the phone, read a book or listen to a soothing playlist. Simple things right in your own home can provide an easy, comforting escape to turn to.
  6. Practice gratitude.
    Food, family, shelter. From these basic needs, and beyond, it’s beneficial to practice gratitude for many reasons. Research shows that it not only helps you to feel better during times of crisis and stress, it can also help protect your physical health and response to infection and illness, especially in older adults.4
  7. Take time to meditate.
    Studies show that meditation may be helpful in alleviating certain health conditions, such as high blood pressure, some psychological disorders and pain.5 What is meditation, exactly? It’s a mind/body practice that has been shown to help calm the mind, relax the body, improve psychological balance, cope with illness, and enhance overall health and wellbeing. Mind and body practices focus on the interactions between the brain, mind, body and behavior.5

Quick guide to mindful meditation.

There’s no right or wrong way to meditate, but it usually involves these four elements:5

  1. A quiet location.
    Eliminate as many distractions as possible.
  2. A specific, comfortable posture.
    Sit, lie down, walk, or settle into another comfortable position.
  3. A focus of attention.
    Focus on a specific word or set of words, an object, or your breathing.
  4. An open attitude.
    Let thoughts come and go naturally without judging them.

Whether you’re living with chronic illness, or you care for somebody with a chronic condition, be kind to yourself. Try these tips to stay healthy and mindful when you’re feeling stressed.

REFERENCES. 1. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html. 2. 7 Tips for Coping with Coronavirus Fear While Chronically Ill, Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/tips-for-coping-with-coronavirus-fear-while-chronically-ill#7.-Curate-your-environment. 3. A Mindful Approach to Chronic Disease, Genetech: https://www.gene.com/stories/a-mindful-approach-to-chronic-disease. 4. Gratitude in Time of Pandemic, Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mental-hygienist/202003/gratitude-in-time-pandemic. 5. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation-in-depth. 6. Exercise and Chronic Disease, Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise-and-chronic-disease/art-20046049. All sources accessed April 16, 2020.