Using Mindfulness When You’re Sick: How-To Guide

by Maria Isabella Neverovich

Stress compromises the immune system. Not only can it leave you feeling drained emotionally, but physically worse off as well. While there’s no use pretending to be happy when you’re feeling ill, there is evidence to suggest that mindfulness could help you recover faster. 

Joining us today as we unwrap mindfulness and sickness is Alicea Ardito from Choosing Therapy. Alicea is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and an expert in mental health. She’ll help us discover why mindfulness is such an effective tool, precisely where it can help and how to employ mindfulness successfully to get real results for your mind and body. 

Let’s begin. What is mindfulness, anyway?

“Mindfulness is conscious, non-judgmental awareness; it is a state of being fully present in the moment.” – says Alicea

So, should we focus on being sick then? Wouldn’t that make us feel even worse? No. In fact, evidence suggests that mindfulness can help reduce stress and help us recover faster.

“There are many positive impacts that mindfulness can have on health, especially mental health. People who practice mindfulness may have a greater ability to focus on the present moment and have less worry about the past or future.”

Simply, mindfulness is all about paying attention to what is going on around you in the present. Too often we focus on the worries of the future or have anxiety about the past. Mindfulness takes us away from these concerns and encourages us to focus on the now.

So, how does mindfulness help when you’re ill?

First, let’s take a look at the connection between stress and sickness. Often, we find that these two are intertwined. When we are stressed, especially if this occurs over a longer period of time, we are more likely to become sick. But why? 

The truth is, no one knows. Science has yet to establish the full picture of why emotional stress affects physical health. But here’s what we know so far.

In 1991, a research paper released by The New England Journal of Medicine suggested that emotional stress made a person more likely to catch a virus and affect the immune system. Later research suggested that this was due to the role of the inflammatory response in an illness. 

When we are stressed our body’s release cortisol, a stress hormone. But this is where the plot thickens. No direct connection between cortisol and health outcomes can be established. However, it’s suspected that the key lies in how our bodies react to the cortisol levels in our blood.

What this means is when our bodies are stressed, whether this is from emotional stress or a physical viral illness, it leaves us more susceptible to disease.

But, then, how can mindfulness help?

“Mindfulness can help enhance the healing process because it can increase acceptance and tolerance, rather than avoidance, and at times this is a desired outcome.” – Explains Alicea

 In turn, this can help reduce overall stress levels which negatively impact the body. But it’s not only a psychological trick.

 “Mindfulness can help to bring physical comfort in many ways. It allows us to become still and present in the moment. Often, when we are experiencing what we perceive to be a negative physical sensation, we are unknowingly passing judgement and attaching negative thoughts and beliefs to the sensation which creates greater discomfort.” – Continues Alicea

 “Take the physical sensation of pain as an example. When we feel pain and attach negative thoughts and emotions to the pain, we have now created emotional turmoil.”

And it is this emotional turmoil that is the barrier to health and healing. 

Think about the experience of going to the dentist. In your mind, you know that you need this work done. However, at the same time, you know it will hurt to some degree or another. The body’s natural reaction is to avoid pain. And especially if you’re nervous, this may make you stressed. In this your heart rate may begin to rise, you may feel sweaty, and even experiencing shaking. This is acute stress.

Untamed, in a worst-case scenario, it can render you unable to cope with the situation. This can lead to panic attacks, fainting, etc. Making it harder for you and your care provider.

By engaging in mindfulness, you can help your body to remain in a calm state, leading to better health outcomes. 

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