What is Mindfulness? Can it Help People Living with Type 1 Diabetes?
Lately, have you heard people talking about “mindfulness” online somewhere and wondered what it meant? I wondered to myself, what is this new trend all about? Here’s an interesting piece of information about mindfulness – do you know that the practice of mindfulness, as we know it today, has actually been in existence for centuries and that it can be found in many religious or spiritual beliefs? What we call mindfulness in this modern age refers to “a conscious awareness of our present moment”.1 The focus of practicing mindfulness is on “increasing our awareness of the thoughts, feeling and actions” in our day-to-day activities.1 If you think about it, activities such as yoga, tai-chi, meditation and prayer encourage the participant to focus on the breath, movement or words. This type of focus teaches us the art of being aware of the present moment, overcoming an active mind and often, letting go of judgement, the regrets of yesterday and the worries of tomorrow.
Often, living with type 1 diabetes can be challenging. It brings up feelings of frustration, anger, resentment, and stress. However, learning and integrating the practice of mindfulness into your life could bring you some peace, calm and confidence.
How Does the Practice of Mindfulness Benefit You?
Before we answer that question, here is something you must know. If you have felt or are struggling with negative emotions about living with type 1 diabetes, you are not alone. Between 1 in 5 to almost 1 in 2 adults living with diabetes feel like you.2 Think about it, living with type 1 diabetes comes with various challenges – managing your diet, insulin dose and exercise on top of managing your life in general. The medical fraternity has given this experience a name – diabetes distress.
Various studies have been conducted to determine if integrating the practice of mindfulness-based interventions or therapies could help support the emotional wellbeing of people living with diabetes.2,3
The benefits of mindfulness-based interventions for people living with type 1 diabetes are:
- Significant lowering of diabetes distress.2,3
- Encouragement in mindful eating, exercise and treatment adherence.3
- Reducing emotional hunger and environment-influenced eating habits.3
- Improvement of diabetes self-management and blood glucose levels [when it is integrated with diabetes education and acceptance skills].3
- Improving post-meal glucose level – this was observed in a small group of 50 individuals living with diabetes.3
- Reducing the stress hormone, cortisol.3
- Improvement in sleep and relaxation.3
- Encouragement in the acceptance of living with type 1 diabetes.3
The benefits of mindfulness-based interventions are observed when it is delivered to the individual or through group and home-based methods. It also takes some time to see the benefits of mindfulness-based interventions – at least three months with consistent practice.2
How Can You Incorporate Mindfulness-Based Interventions Into Your Daily Life?
Discuss with your diabetes healthcare team to find out if there are courses that you can take to incorporate mindful practices. Other simple ways to try this are:4
- Focus mindfulness: while focusing on your breath, turn inwards and observe your mind.
- Awareness mindfulness: look at your mind from the outside [as if observing another person’s mind] without judging it.
- Body scan: lie on your back, close your eyes and move your awareness from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. When you reach a place that seems tight, sore or uncomfortable, focus your breath in that area until you feel it relax.
- Object meditation: find an interesting object and focus your awareness and senses on it.
- Mindful eating: focus your attention on the food that you are eating. Employ all your senses – taste, smell, sight, touch and sound as you eat slowly.
- Walking meditation: walk at a comfortable pace and bring awareness and focus on how your body feels and your breathing.
- Breathing exercises: practice yoga or other forms of gentle stretching and focus on the movements and breathing.
- Mindfulness apps: there are many free apps available that can guide you through mindfulness one step at a time. Try a few and see which one works for you and your lifestyle.
there are many free apps available that can guide you through mindfulness one step at a time. Try a few and see which one works for you and your lifestyle.
Bringing balance and a sense of calm is essential to an individual regardless if they are living with type 1 diabetes or not. However, as a person living with type 1 diabetes, the challenges in daily living can take a toll on them. Learning about and practising simple mindful-based practices can enrich your life by helping you lower the stress of diabetes management. So, take a deep breath, hold it for a second or two and let it out slowly – practise these techniques every day and start small. Soon you will experience its benefits.
- Miller KD. What is mindfulness therapy, and how to apply it? https://positivepsychology.com. 2020 Available at: https://positivepsychology.com/mindfulness-therapy/. [Accessed July 2021].
- Guo J, Wang H, Luo J, et al. Factors influencing the effect of mindfulness-based interventions on diabetes distress: a meta-analysis. BMJ Open Diab Res Care 2019;7:e000757.
- Wilson D, Souza E, Lucena L, Morillo H. Effects of mindfulness on diabetes mellitus: rationale and overview. Curr Diabetes Rev 2017;13:141-147.
- Ackerman CE. MBSR: 25 mindfulness-based stress reduction exercises and courses. https://positivepsychology.com. 2021 Available at: https://positivepsychology.com/mindfulness-based-stress-reduction-mbsr/. [Accessed July 2021].