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Mindfulness explained

Dr Ann-Marie Golden, an experienced health psychologist, cognitive scientist, therapist and mindfulness facilitator has taken some time to describe the potential benefit of mindfulness as a tool for taking care of your mental wellbeing through the highs and lows of life with cystic fibrosis.

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t)." James Baraz.

Dr Golden

More often than not, this seems like an impossible task: to be in pain and not wish it to go away (and engage in various practices of avoidance or numbing that are not helpful) or to be happy and not want to stay like that forever (and equally engage in behaviours that are counterproductive).

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about getting to know yourself more intimately and learning different ways of taking care of your mind and body in order to introduce more calm and quality of life. It is a journey of exploring, developing and deepening our practices and our life just as it is in the here and now, in this moment. The ultimate challenge is tapping into our full range of experiences: pleasant, unpleasant and neutral, and appreciating them as they are right now without worry about the future or regret about the past.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

As well as managing a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, the cystic fibrosis (CF) community reports high rates of depression and anxiety, and together these lead significant negative issues such as lower quality of life, increased hospitalization, poor adherence to treatment, sleep issues, decreased appetite, lower lung function and more frequent exacerbation of symptoms.

I am frequently asked “Why on earth would anyone with CF would want to focus on their breathing?”, particularly when they often report that each breath is a struggle. By practicing mindfulness, some people will find greater peace and calm, even while experiencing uncomfortable symptoms that can make it hard to think clearly. Of course, it won’t work for everyone and it takes time and patience to pick up.

Our experiences

When it comes to any event, such as an episode of shortness of breath or painful coughing, there are four layers of experience we can go through:

  • Physical: running out of air, tightness in the chest, tingling, a pounding heart.
  • Emotions: fear, worry, sadness or disappointment.
  • Thoughts: “I am sick of feeling like this”, “I’m fed up of this pain”, “Why me?”.
  • Behaviour: avoiding people or reaching out to them for help, taking medicines, crying.

To stay present during these episodes, we can choose a point of focus to direct our minds to with intention and effort. These points of focus are called ‘anchors’, such as sounds, emotions, movement, writing or even music. You can find out how to anchor yourself in each of these ways on our Mindfulness practices page.

Although the popularity of mindfulness has led to it being described as a silver bullet for all of our ailments, it is important to realise that it does not offer a cure but instead a different way of approaching a difficulty, offering momentary respite and in the long run improving our quality of life. 

What does research say about mindfulness?

Research evidence demonstrates positive results for people coping with stress, depression, anxiety, burnout, trauma and various chronic conditions. Other benefits include improved sleeping, stress reduction, pain relief, increased energy, improved self-confidence and compassion.

Further mindfulness resources

Take a look at these suggested practices to get started on your mindfulness journey or search online for a wide range of resources, apps and podcasts.

This article supplements a feature in our latest edition of CF Life magazine, which is packed full of stories and articles about life with cystic fibrosis. If you don’t already receive the magazine and would like to in future, please email supportercare@cysticfibrosis.org.uk.