PHILADELPHIA (November 8, 2019) – Mindfulness, the ability to keep the mind focused on the present moment, was associated with less pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbance in women with metastatic breast cancer, according to new research.
“Mindfulness helps us relate to our thoughts, emotions, and physical symptoms in a different way,” said Lauren A. Zimmaro, PhD, postdoctoral fellow of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “Not judging or reacting to symptoms may be helpful to the physical body by lowering the fight-or-flight stress response and inducing a relaxation response. Over time, people who are more mindful can buffer their stresses, and that may have a more beneficial impact on the body.”
The researchers had 64 women complete questionnaires to assess the correlation between mindfulness and common symptoms women with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) experience—pain severity and interference; fatigue; psychological distress such as anxiety and depression; and sleep disturbance.
The associations between patient-reported MBC symptoms and five mindfulness facets were also investigated. Those facets were observing, describing, acting with awareness, nonjudging, and nonreactivity.
Higher mindfulness was linked with lower symptom levels in MBC patients. The level of association differed according to each mindfulness facet. Nonreactivity, nonjudging, and describing had the most frequent associations with lower symptom levels and the largest effect across all MBC symptoms. Observing produced the least frequent association with a lower level of symptoms and the smallest effect across all symptoms.
Nonreactivity, which Zimmaro defined as “being able to allow any thoughts, feelings, or sensations to come and go without being carried away by them,” showed the strongest associations with lower symptom levels in the women with MBC, indicating it may be a particularly important aspect of mindfulness.
Nonjudging also showed a particularly strong relationship to several symptoms, with the exception of sleep disturbance. Zimmaro defined nonjudging as “letting yourself experience your thoughts or feelings, such as worry or pain, and not telling yourself it’s bad.”
Describing was also associated with lower symptoms, particularly anxiety and depressive symptoms. Patients who score highly on the describing facet of mindfulness tend to name their sensations, thoughts, and emotions with words, which may in turn help women express their experiences to their medical team or social supports.
“Mindfulness is a good resource for dealing with the physical and psychological symptoms of metastatic disease,” Zimmaro said. “Women who were more mindful tended to have lower symptoms of metastatic breast cancer, including pain severity and interference, fatigue, psychological distress, and sleep disturbance.”
The paper, "Greater Mindfulness Associated With Lower Pain, Fatigue, and Psychological Distress in Women with Metastatic Breast Cancer,” was published in Psycho-Oncology.