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Mindfulness and Kidney Disease

Dealing with a chronic illness like kidney disease or kidney failure can take a toll on a person’s mental health. Gary Petingola, a social worker certified to teach mindfulness-based stress reduction, is here to introduce you to a simple practice to help you relax. Learn what mindfulness is, its benefits, and how to practice it. 

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of living in the present and accepting all the thoughts and bodily sensations that come along with that. 

“It isn't about fixing, changing, or altering life. It isn’t an escape,” said Petingola. “It’s the awareness that arises when we pay attention to the present moment with our judgment.”

You've likely been mindful before, during moments like watching a sunset with a loved one or playing with your child. Mindfulness, as Petingola notes, is any time you experience a moment with all your senses.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

Most mindfulness research is based on one of two mindfulness practices.1

  1. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR): A guided, 8-week intervention with weekly group classes and exercises to practice at home. There is moderate evidence to suggest this helps people focus on the present moment and worry less.

  2. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT): Combines MBSR techniques with cognitive behavioral therapy to help treat depression. There is strong evidence to suggest it helps lessen negative thoughts or unhelpful emotional reactions during stressful times.

“Mindfulness may help lower blood pressure and weight by helping people manage cravings,” Petingola said. “Mindfulness helps us be more resilient to stress, pay attention, and stop a wandering mind. It helps us solve problems with more creativity and recognize that thoughts are just thoughts.” 

Mindfulness may also help reduce pain, fatigue, and stress in people who have chronic pain. It can even increase self-compassion.

“Kidney disease and kidney failure are tough. There is constant change, uncertainty, and grieving. Many people on dialysis face a diminished quality of life on top of everything else. Mindfulness helps people become more compassionate to themselves. When you accept the moment as it is, it can unlock additional power to handle what you are going through.”

Do you need support along your kidney disease journey? NKF Peers is here to help! Join today and get matched with a trained mentor who understands what you’re going through because they lived it.

How to use mindfulness

Ready to feel the benefits of mindfulness? Here are two ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life. 

1. Informal practice

Be present and engage with all your senses while doing tasks. 

For example, when you cook, take in your surroundings. Chopping an onion, smelling spice simmering, and bringing water to a boil are all ways you can be mindful while cooking. Following a recipe in your mind and staying present in the process of your cooking can help you feel calm and engaged.

“Taking a moment to be mindful throughout the day can make difficult life changes, like water or dietary restrictions, easier,” Petingola said. "Mindfulness encourages you to make choices consciously and with awareness. It allows you to make more thoughtful choices, like taking your medicine and following lifestyle changes.”

2. Formal practice

Formal practice is more structured but still flexible! Here are two techniques you can try today.

  • Body scan meditation: Mentally go down your body while noticing how you feel as you do it. 

  • ‘STOP’ method: This is an acronym for stop, take a breath, observe, and proceed.

“Take a moment to check in. What is happening with your thoughts and body? Are you happy, sad, or numb? Focus on your breath for five minutes. If your mind wanders, go back to your breath without judging the thoughts that float into your mind,” said Petingola. “Some days will be harder than others and that’s okay. The more you practice, the better you’ll become.”

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