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Mindfulness practice in palliative care

One of the elements to take care of and keep in mind when experiencing an advanced chronic illness is the emotional aspect. This is because the disease disrupts all areas of a person's life, bringing with it a certain degree of crisis and emotional distress. Although each person responds individually to the situation according to their level of resilience or personal resources, it is common to experience feelings such as anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, helplessness, worry, etc. during the process.

In the field of palliative care, psychological care for the sick person and their family, as well as for the bereaved, addresses this emotional distress in many ways with the aim of reducing their emotional suffering and helping them to adapt to the changing situation. Mindfulness is one of the valuable tools that contribute to this end.

In recent years, the practice has spread exponentially around the world.  It was the American physician Jon Kabat-Zinn who initiated this global movement when, in 1979, he founded the "Stress Reduction Clinic" at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, where he developed his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Programme.

Although the term, mindfulness, dates from not so long ago, in reality this meditative practice is based on ancient techniques used in wisdom traditions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, particularly Vipassana Meditation.

What has changed in our times is that the practice has separated from its religious overtones to develop as a scientifically proven technique that reduces stress and increases well-being, among other benefits.  The growing scientific interest in mindfulness can be seen in the increase in scientific publications on the subject. A review of the recent literature reveals that in 1982 there was only one article published in scientific journals related to mindfulness. In 2014 the figure rises to 535 articles.

The word "mindfulness" has a difficult translation from English to Spanish. It comes to mean something like "complete care".  It has to do with developing the ability to focus greater attention on the present moment from stillness and calm. Bishop et al. offer a definition of mindfulness as - "noticing present experience with curiosity, openness to experience and acceptance". 

During mindfulness practice, the person aims to focus on the present moment, trying not to interfere with it, and trying to experience and accept without judgement what he or she observes, feels and perceives moment by moment. One way to train this is to focus attention on the breath, since breathing is always in the here and now.  In the same way, focusing attention on the body and bodily sensations also serves this function. Mindfulness can be practised formally through a meditation session, or more informally, by trying to increase moments of mindfulness in daily life.

Multiple studies have shown that the practice of meditation or mindfulness reduces stress and anxiety and helps to alleviate depression and the experience of pain. It also promotes emotional regulation and general well-being, among many other benefits.

For these reasons, mindfulness can be very helpful in calming anxiety and managing emotions in palliative situations.  As a clinical psychologist, I teach its use to patients, family members and bereaved people, who report that, with the practice, they find themselves more serene in the situation they are facing.

That is why I want to share here an example of this practice in the hope that it will contribute to your personal well-being.  In the following link you will find a video of a relaxing guided meditation. 

This initiative of the Matia Psychosocial Care Team arises within the context of the "la Caixa" Foundation's Programme for "Comprehensive care for people with advanced illnesses".

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