Being at peace with ourselves and our lives makes daily living so much easier. Of course, sometimes it’s easier said than done. But one tactic may help improve comfort, confidence, and happiness: mindfulness training. In fact, says new research in Rehabilitation Psychology and Neuropsychology, embracing mindfulness training can benefit patients with multiple sclerosis through two distinct ways: emotional regulation and mental processing speed.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological disorder categorized by the damage and degeneration of nerve cells. It has no known cause. But many people consider it an autoimmune disorder; in this case, the immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath, or the protective nerve cell covering. This impacts the way the brain communicates with the rest of the body.
Multiple sclerosis is either progressive (which could result in a greater loss of function) or relapsing and remitting (meaning there are periods of remission between symptom flares). Females are 2x more likely than males to develop MS. Symptom onset usually begins between ages 20 and 40. These symptoms include muscle weakness and numbness, issues with balance and coordination, and problems with speech, bladder control, and vision.
Learn more about multiple sclerosis.
To first understand the results of the study, you need to know what mindfulness means. If it conjures up images of yoga or meditation, you’re mostly right! Both of these practices can involve mindfulness. But the practice itself goes even further; it is a state of mind that you can practice every day.
According to Mindful Magazine, mindfulness is:
the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. The goal of mindfulness is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional, and physical processes.
Basically, mindfulness is an awareness of yourself, your body, your emotions, your environment, and your thoughts. When you understand what is going on within a moment, you can proactively address it and accept what is happening. This allows you to effectively explore how you feel within a moment without simply snap reacting.
The research study followed 61 people with multiple sclerosis. They were split into three groups. The first underwent 4 weeks of mindfulness training. The second underwent 4 weeks of adaptive cognitive training. ACT uses technology (computerized games) to improve attention, focus, planning, and organizing in people with multiple sclerosis. Finally, the third group was a waitlist control group. However, they did receive treatment after the study.
Researchers sought to understand whether mindfulness training assisted with emotional regulation. According to one of the lead researchers, up to 50% of patients with multiple sclerosis also have some sort of psychiatric disorder, anxiety, or depression. So, mindfulness was being explored as a potential option to mitigate the resulting stress.
People in the mindfulness group learned how to focus on and control their breathing. Additionally, they learned how to mentally “scan their body” to see how they were feeling. All patients took a survey on emotional regulation at the start and end of the study. Those in the mindfulness training group showed better emotional regulation, which meant they were more constructively handling their feelings, than the other groups.
A secondary study analysis analyzed participants’ working memory and processing speed. The latter basically means information understanding and reactivity, as well as time length to complete mental tasks. Those in the mindfulness group significantly improved their processing speed.
Moving forward, additional studies are needed to try to replicate these findings. However, researchers are excited at the prospects: better emotional support and regulation, cognitive improvement, and accessibility. In fact, says one researcher:
“Anyone can use mindfulness—even individuals with limited mobility, who often find other training techniques, like exercise training, to be more challenging.”
Read the original in Medical XPress.