While pain experts promote distraction as a powerful pain coping mechanism, research also shows that practicing mindfulness, or paying attention to what is happening in the moment without criticizing the thoughts and feelings that come to the surface, offers a range of health benefits. But how can mindfulness affect your child’s IBS symptom management?
Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, decrease depression and improve symptoms of chronic pain in patients with various conditions. Specifically, patients with IBS who practice mindfulness experience physical, emotional, and social benefits. For example, in a study of 75 women with IBS, those who practiced mindfulness skills reported feeling better: they had fewer IBS-related symptoms, better health-related quality of life, and lower levels of distress than the women who didn’t learn the mindfulness skills. The same thing happened in another study of 90 IBS patients: the group enrolled in a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program showed greater health improvement than those in the comparison group.
While it may seem that teaching mindfulness to patients with IBS would cause them to focus more on their physical discomfort and other symptoms, mindfulness researcher Susan Gaylord, PhD, says that teaching patients to tune in may help them in the long-run. Practicing mindfulness allows patients let go of their racing thoughts and focus on the present moment, which may actually encourage them to accept symptoms and move on rather than fixate on them. For example, visualizing thoughts and feelings as if they are passing clouds can help people get some distance from their busy and often judgmental minds, especially when their intention is to be loving and kind.
Research also shows that delivering mindfulness education through technology can help with IBS symptoms. In fact, one study showed that patients with IBS who learned Internet-based mindfulness practices reported a decrease in IBS symptoms, whereas those in the group that did not receive the mindfulness training actually reported an increase in IBS symptoms. Plus, practicing mindfulness may help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, which are common triggers of IBS symptoms.
Mindfulness Practices for Patients With IBS
The Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at University of California, Berkeley offers some simple tips for getting started with mindfulness practice:
- Tune in to your breathing, especially during stressful or emotional times
- Take time to become aware of what you’re sensing at any given moment (the sights, sounds, smells, etc.)
- Remember that your thoughts and emotions are impermanent and do not characterize who you are. Free yourself from habits of negative thinking.
- Turn your attention inward to your body’s physical sensation: how your feet feel against the ground and how water trickles when you wash your hands.
- Try a body scan, a guided meditation in which you focus your attention along your whole body, from the top of your head to the tip of your toes.
*Adapted from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley