How is mindfulness helpful for people with ME∕CFS?

Research in to mindfulness for ME/CFS specifically is in its infancy. However, there are some early trials that show improvements in fatigue levels, mood, physical functioning and quality of life. The body of evidence for conditions that are often present alongside ME/CFS (such as persistent pain, anxiety and depression) are more established. For instance, we know that mindfulness is more helpful than medication at preventing relapse of severe, recurrent depression. We also know that mindfulness is more effective than standard doses of morphine in the management of pain.

Let us now explore how mindfulness works and what we may have to gain from a practise.

If you have read our ‘Role of Acceptance’ page, you will see that our understandable aversion responses (e.g. fighting/fear/sadness) caused by the symptoms can inadvertently sustain and worsen them. Mindfulness helps us to side-step that quicksand scenario and develops those parts of our brain associated with acceptance and self-compassion, both for ourselves and our symptoms.

If you have seen our section on the ‘Role of thoughts’, you may be aware how the kinds of thoughts we experience can influence our emotions and our behaviour. Mindfulness develops our ability over time to step back from the narrative of our minds and to watch it as if we were curiously watching a film. No longer ‘fused’ with these thoughts, we have the ability to let them float by, like clouds in the sky or leaves on a stream. We may also see that we have more choices in that moment than our minds may allow us to see.

When we may think we are physically resting, our nervous system is still consuming huge amounts of energy and oxygen (even more than our heart and muscles!). We can be sat still, but at the same time be hugely busy in our minds, thinking about the past and the future. Mindfulness gives us an opportunity to touch base with the present moment, where there is often less ‘to do’ than our minds may be telling us. We can step out of the ‘doing mode’ and occupy the ‘being mode’, which can soothe & heal us, provide a new way to live & experience ourselves and the world around us. This can dial down some of all that extra nervous system excitability and allow us to rest more fully.