Guest post by Tatiana Alafouzo MSc ANutr
Hello everyone! My name is Tatiana Alafouzo and I am currently working on my PhD at St Mary’s University Twickenham, London, which is focusing on mindfulness-based interventions for the management of certain predominant physiological and psychological symptoms of PCOS. I also have a master’s degree in Human Nutrition and am a Registered Associate Nutritionist with the Association for Nutrition in the United Kingdom.
As a fellow PCOS warrior, diagnosed in 2004, I am very passionate about empowering those with PCOS to take control of their symptoms through diet and lifestyle choices. I hope my research will open up new knowledge in assessing the effects of mindfulness on certain symptoms of PCOS, and in doing so will also compare and contrast these effects with those of diet, exercise, and other medical interventions (which are equally as important).
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness has been broadly defined as: Paying attention on purpose and non-judgmentally to one’s mind and body, and being in the present moment. Particularly in the last decade, there has been an increased interest in mindfulness interventions and its potential effects on physiological symptoms and psychological benefits.
Different mindfulness interventions: MBSR & MBCT
There are different approaches categorised under “mindfulness” and mindfulness interventions can vary in both length of treatment and methods of delivery. The two main ones studied in the literature are mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), although there are others. Both MBSR and MBCT are believed to alter emotional reactions and cognitive processes. In recent years they have been used to research the benefits on physical and mental health.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) interventions have been the most studied and standardised. MBSR was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre. It is an eight-week course which uses a mixture of meditation, body awareness, yoga, and an understanding of one’s thoughts and feelings in order to process them without judgment.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MCBT) is a different approach which combines cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with mindfulness practices such as meditation. It is also an eight-week group intervention originally designed by Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale for individuals with major recurring depression, but since has been used for many different conditions.
Mindfulness and chronic illnesses
Studies have found that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) can lower blood pressure, glucose levels (specifically in adults with type 2 diabetes), inflammation, and can help with anxiety, depression, and self-esteem (all of which can affect PCOS Warriors). This is due to changes in brain activity which cause improvements in the autonomic nervous system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Essentially this means that regular mindfulness practice can ‘rewire’ your brain and as a result physiological change may occur.
Mindfulness and PCOS
Few studies to date have investigated MBIs as means of improving the physiological and psychological symptoms in those with PCOS, however, those that have, have had promising results. A study of 38 women in Greece found that an eight-week mindfulness-based intervention improved symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, quality of life, and reduced salivary cortisol levels (stress hormone) in women with PCOS. In addition, another study in the United States found that an eight-week MBI programme resulted in lower perceived stress and fasting glucose levels (blood sugar) in women with PCOS compared to women who received only health education.
How can you incorporate mindfulness into your life?
I know that we often imagine mindfulness as sitting with legs crossed under a tree surrounded by green grass…a peaceful scenery, but this is not always the case! Here are different ways to begin your journey with mindfulness:
- Take an online or in person mindfulness course:
There are so many wonderful options and unfortunately, I cannot name them all, however, here are a few reputable mindfulness courses in the UK.
The Oxford Mindfulness Centre is a wonderful resource. They have several different programmes (depending on your schedule and availability) and different course levels depending on your experience. They also offer different podcasts, guided meditation practices, and other free resources and if you are not ready to commit to a course and want to dip your toe in the water!
Read about all the resources on their website.
Be Mindful has a great 4-week (minimum) MBCT course which is broken up into 4 themed modules you can complete at your own pace and it is NHS approved.
More information can be found on their website.
- Use a meditation app
With the increased use of mobile applications, mobile mindfulness apps are promising alternatives as they can reduce geographical, social and financial barriers associated with in person mindfulness interventions (especially in these times of COVD-19).
The founder of MBSR himself, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, developed a JKZ app which includes several guided meditations used in his 8-week course.
The Headspace App supplies good mindfulness education and infographics to explain clearly the various concepts associated with mindfulness.
The Calm app has many guided meditations and “sleep stories” which feature many celebrities.
The Insight Timer app has thousands of FREE guided meditations to try.
- Mindful movement
Mindful movement is a great way to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life. This can differ from exercise in the sense that the goal of moving mindfully is to focus on your breath and your body’s sensations in order to connect your mind and body.
Some examples of mindful movement include: yoga, walking, and tai chi
- Mindful colouring or art therapy
Definitely not just for kids anymore! Both colouring and art therapy can relieve stress and bring out your creative side. You can buy an “adult colouring book” or even find thousands of free templates online.
Heathline have a beautiful mandala on their website.
Finally, a friendly reminder:
If mindfulness doesn’t come naturally to you in the beginning, don’t get discouraged. Be kind to yourself, keep practicing, and don’t give up!
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me!
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