I am in a constant state of improvement. Whatever I'm doing, I want to do it better. Whether I'm working, cleaning, eating, or managing autoimmune diseases, I look for ways to do things smarter and more efficiently. This can become a very stressful mindset when you are trying to manage diseases that are not easily managed and that do not have a rule book you can follow. When things don't turn out the way I want them to, I blame myself, feeling I wasn't paying enough attention or making something a priority when I should have. Needless to say, my stress levels are always running on high. Stress isn't good for anyone; but it is even worse for someone who already has 3 autoimmune diseases. One of the triggers for auto immune is stress. I also know that the body is not meant to live in a constant state of stress, to always live in the fire, yet I can't seem to get myself out.
I've tried various ways to reduce my stress, including reading, walking, and I tried meditation, which seemed impossible for me because I could not stop my anxious mind from wandering. Then one of my providers recommended a program through the University of Minnesota, called the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. It is based on the teachings of Jon Kabat Zinn and began at the Univ of Massachusetts. It is an 8-week intensive course, once a week for 2.5 hours and one weekend retreat, with daily "homework" exercises that are about 1 hour in length. The basis of the class is that there are stressors in your life that will never go away (e.g., chronic diseases or injuries, work life and relationships), but changing your thinking can greatly improve your disease, your outlook, and how you care for yourself. It can change how you respond to stressful situations or even daily stress. It is a scientifically-based class, proven to improve a lot of health conditions (improve, not cure). As Jon Kabat Zinn wrote, "As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with you." Isn't that a beautiful way to view yourself and your health?
It is very hard to change your thinking and retrain your brain. It is not simply "just doing it." It requires daily mind exercises to strengthen the brain, just as you need to exercise to strengthen muscles in your body. Although these exercises are mind-based, they are actually quite challenging. Trying to learn it from different books has not been helpful for me; having an instructor-led class has been a whole different story.
I have completed 2 weeks of the program and already I feel different. I am doing the daily exercises and I'm using the techniques in daily activities. I have experienced measurable improvements in my health already. Lower blood sugars which has resulted in lowering of my basal rates, and my blood pressure was considerably lower at my dr appointment yesterday (100/60). But most of all, my mind is changing how it thinks and reacts to daily stress. I am using a non-judgmental awareness throughout my day.
The book we are reading, "Full Catastrophe Living- Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness" by Jon Kabat Zinn is an amazing book with great insight. It demonstrates for me just how powerful the mind is and that how we think can greatly improve or compromise our health.
There is a workbook, with CDs, as well.
I set up my meditation and yoga space in my little home office. I keep my exercise mat with a little pillow ready for my daily practices. You don't need a separate room dedicated to this space; you can set up shop anywhere, even in your living room or bedroom. Basically wherever you can fit a yoga mat or blanket.
Here is a link to the program, if you are interested in learning more about it. If you are not in Minnesota, you can google MBSR to find a program close to your area. Most classes are in the evenings, from 6:30-9pm.
And here is a link that talks about how this program was able to help one type 1 diabetic with her diabetes management.
You don't have to have a disease to benefit from this class. In my class of 20 people, there are more "healthy" people in the class than there are ones with illnesses. But there is an added benefit, in my opinion, for those of us who are using this class to assist in managing our health conditions and the stress that comes from having a health condition.
I am excited by how much I am learning and what I will be able to do by the end of this class, and I believe this is a great complimentary care to the regular medical care I receive. I'll keep you posted!
Just a reminder, I am not a health professional and am not offering health advice. I'm just talking about my own daily experiences.