Anyone with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) can attest, IBD is pervasive, with inflammation spreading like wildfire from the bowel to the mind. While the symptoms are clearly not just in our heads, the nature of the disease leads to overthinking with fear of the future and rumination of the past. Living in the moment and being present to the goodness of life seems elusive whilst suffering from digestion and elimination issues.
IBD includes both Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, which involve inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract with symptoms ranging from pain, diarrhea, uncontrollable urgency, and blood, just to name a few.
The unpredictable nature of the disease causes an unsettled mind.
Throughout my IBD journey, I have found the mental torment has needed equal attention to the troubling physical symptoms.
IBD flares would sweep me away on a thought train of despair. Chronic fearful thoughts of what might happen consumed me: What if the drugs aren’t effective, what if I can’t make it to the bathroom, what if the pain returns? Most daily activities became filled with nerves projecting into the future.
I turned to my meditation practice as a means to help steady my mind. At this point, I had been meditating for nine years, but my current practice wasn’t enough. After practicing various styles of meditation, I discovered mindfulness.
I signed up for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), the 8-week course created by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD., scientifically proven to help reduce stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness includes the formal practice of meditation and the informal practice of being mindful and present in your daily activities.
Mindfulness is the awareness that arises by paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. The essence of mindfulness is to live in the moment. When being mindful, one becomes aware of their behavior and habits, such as overthinking.
In my previous meditation practice, I could drop into a calm place during my sit and into the day. Still, there was a disconnect from integrating the steady mind into my daily activities. Mindfulness bridged the gap.
The practice helped me shift the mind from being fixated on the disease what-ifs to paying attention to the present moment.
What is the value of the present moment? It is the only time we are guaranteed; the only place we have to cultivate peace. If we are anxious and fearful in this moment, it is likely the next moment will be the same. Not to mention, we are missing out on life! We aren’t savoring all the goodness and enjoying what is here for us right now. By practicing mindfulness, we start to become aware when we’re off with the mind and learn to guide the attention back to the now.
I started to become aware of when I was spiraling away from the present. Through simple practices, I learned to pay attention to where I was (often the future or the past) and direct my focus back to the present moment. Mindfulness was the key to open the doorway to a peaceful mind.
So, how do we practice mindfulness? How can we be here now? One of the easiest ways is to connect to the senses. That’s right.
Mindfulness is innate in all humans and readily accessible by sensing into the present moment.
Let’s practice together right now. After reading each one, take a moment to pause and practice.
1.Take this moment to notice what you are seeing. Obviously, you’re reading this article but what else do you see? Let the eyes take in what is around you: objects, shapes, shadows, light, color. Look around and note what you observe.
2. And what are you feeling in the hands in this moment? Perhaps you are holding a device or the hands are resting on a table or in your lap so you feel contact with an object or the body. Are there sensations of warmth, coolness, pulsing in the hands? Can you feel into the fingers, perhaps sensing the fingers making contact with one another? Observing sensations of moisture or dryness in the palms. Feel into the hands.
3. Are there any sounds you can hear? The sound of yourself breathing. Sounds around you? Listen to any noises the building may be making. Or sounds outside.
4. What are you smelling right now? Are there any scents in the air? Perhaps there is a fragrance in the room, the smell of your soap or lotion or food? Noticing any smells.
5. How about any tastes that may be present? Maybe you are sipping a coffee or tea. Or you are eating right now. Perhaps you have just eaten and flavors are lingering. Observing any tastes that are here right now.
Take a moment here to pause, to breathe, and notice how you feel right now. Connecting to the senses helps us ground to the present moment.
This is how we can break the cycle of overthinking and tune in to what is here for us right now; this is practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness has helped me intercept the IBD overdrive mind and shown me how to live in the moment. I can now be present to the joys and the mundane, navigate the overwhelming times with more ease and connect more to myself and loved ones when I lean into the now. All the little moments aren’t so little; they are the totality of our life.
Check out, Mindful IBD, my free download to help you have more peace and less stress while living with Crohn’s or Colitis.