After my Dad’s 3rd trip to the emergency room not being able to breathe because of his sleep apnea and congestive heart failure, his cardiologist recommended he ”just relax” when his suffocating feelings occurred. Of course, not being able to catch his breath would always heighten anxiety, which made it even more difficult to inhale and exhale. Ultimately, what my Dad needed to learn was mindfulness to deal with his relatively benign inability to breathe, since the focus of mindfulness is acceptance of rather than control over your circumstances.
The concept of mindfulness has been studied in adults, but it is gaining popularity among the pediatric population. Ruskin et al., (2017) used a prospective pre-post interventional study to assess how children with chronic pain respond to mindfulness-based interventions (MBI’s). For 8 weeks, 21 adolescents engaged in group sessions of MBI. Before, after, and 3 months post-treatment, the authors collected self-report measurements for a variety of factors such as disability, anxiety, pain quality, acceptance, catastrophizing, and social support. Subjects were highly satisfied with the treatment, and all would recommend the group intervention to friends. From baseline to 3-month follow-up, pain acceptance, body awareness, and ability to cope with stress all improved in the subjects. Further randomized controlled studies are needed, but the initial conclusion was MBI’s were received well by adolescents.
A feasibility study performed by Anclair, Hjärthag, and Hiltunen in 2017 considered the effect of mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy for the parents of children with chronic conditions, looking at Health-Related Quality of Life (HRQOL), measured with Short Form-36 (SF-36), and life satisfaction. Ten parents received group-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and 9 participated in a group-based mindfulness program (MF). Treatment was implemented for 2-hour weekly sessions over the course of 8 weeks. The CBT treatment was based on the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, focusing on changing thoughts and emotions about stressful issues as well as behaviors. They avoided the acceptance aspect, as it would overlap the MF intervention. The MF therapy used the Here and Now Version 2.0 (including daily themes on knowing your body, observing breathing, acceptance, meditation, coping, understanding thoughts versus facts, and self-care reinforcement). The parents in each group significantly improved their Mental Component Summary (MCS), Vitality, Social functioning, and Mental health scores. The MF group even showed notable improvement in Role emotional and some of the physical subscales (Bodily pain, General health, and Role physical). The CBT group showed improved satisfaction with Spare time and Relation to partner, and CBT and MF groups improved life satisfaction Relation to child. The authors conclude CBT and MF may positively affect HRQOL and life satisfaction of parents with chronically ill children.
Whether young or old or in between, how we perceive stressful situations and chronic pain can impact our health. The neurodevelopmental aspect of mindfulness is still being studied. The “Mindfulness Based Pain Treatment” course applies the concept to treating chronic pain patients. This approach brings to mind the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr: “Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Ruskin ,DA, Gagnon, MM, Kohut SA, Stinson JN, Walker KS. (2017). A Mindfulness Program Adapted for Adolescents With Chronic Pain: Feasibility, Acceptability, and Initial Outcomes. The Clinical Journal of Pain. http://www.doi:10.1097/AJP.0000000000000490
Anclair, M., Hjärthag, F., & Hiltunen, A. J. (2017). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness for Health-Related Quality of Life: Comparing Treatments for Parents of Children with Chronic Conditions - A Pilot Feasibility Study. Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health : CP & EMH, 13, 1–9. http://doi.org/10.2174/1745017901713010001