Diabetes is a physical disorder but it does have a vast impact on the emotional, psychological, and mental state of mind of individuals. Treatment for type 2 diabetes, until now, has been predominantly based on medications and clinical approaches. It’s only during recent times that focus has shifted toward lifestyle changes, diet modifications, and physical activity to keep blood glucose levels under control. In the last decade, we have been hearing the terminology ‘diabetes distress’ quite often which is the emotional distress occurring as a result of having to live with and self-manage diabetes amidst social stigma and personal stress. All these prove that diabetes management needs a holistic approach that balances physical, mental, and psychosocial care in individuals affected by the disease.
Science has been constantly evolving and so is the field of medicine. Mankind has done an excellent job in bringing significant improvements to disease care and cure. At the same time, our focus now is also on mind-body therapies, alternative medicines, and mindfulness therapies to cure ailments.
Mind-body medicine is a field that focuses on “the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior, and on the powerful ways in which emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and behavioral factors can directly affect health.” Using this technique we can minimize stress and come up with solutions for chronic illness. One popular mind-body approach is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) that has a positive impact on people suffering from chronic illnesses including diabetes, anxiety, obesity, depression, hypertension, and more.
Adapting MBSR for Diabetes Management
Mindfulness is being aware of moment-by-moment thoughts, emotions, and physical feelings without any judgements. The technique, universally practiced worldwide, relies on meditation as its pillar of strength.
Stress is one of the biggest causes of diabetes, though not many consider it to be as important as genetics, diet, or sedentary behaviour. Mindfulness is a tactical way to manage stress, anxiety, and depression helping individuals accept the way they feel instead of waging a war against their own emotions.
Mindfulness-based techniques have proved to offer great support in diabetes management, enhance the clinical remedies associated with controlling blood glucose levels, and have an overall positive effect on both psychological and physical conditions of the body.
Coupling Meditation & Mindfulness
Been around for centuries, meditation focuses mainly on breathing techniques to relax the mind and the body helping individuals attain peace and calm.
There are several researches and studies that support the incorporation of meditation practice in daily life to cope with diabetes. One research presented at the American Diabetes Association (ADA) conference proved that mindfulness-based meditation greatly benefitted diabetics as this practice provides relief against anxiety and depression, two symptoms commonly found in people with diabetes. Meditating daily provides control over emotions and mind, elevates positive vibes, decreases negative feelings, and improves coping skills helping people realize their sense of identity and self-worth.
The Science Behind Meditation-based Treatment for Diabetes
Meditation has a profound impact on the human brain, extending to the grey and white brain matter, cerebellum, brainstem, cortex, and the neural networks extensively. Research studies show that practicing meditation daily is effective against oxidative stress, decreases the production of the stress hormone (cortisol), and increases the secretion of antioxidant enzymes that preserve youth and good health. It also changes the brain functionally and structurally.
Another study included coronary artery disease (CAD) participants and segregated them into two groups, the control group and the meditation group. At the end of the 6-month study period significant decrease in blood glucose and fasting serum insulin levels were observed in those who practiced meditation during the study period compared to the control group.
One study included 60 participants segregating them into three groups namely A, B, and C. Participants in group A practiced Raja Yoga Meditation (RM), those in group B followed a controlled diet and performed regular exercise only, and those in group C combined RM, diet, and exercise. Though all three groups reaped benefits, participants in group C achieved better favourable HbA1C levels comparatively.
The time duration is not a constraint here—it could be as short as 10 minutes to up to one hour or so. It’s been observed that meditating for 20 minutes a day relieves stress equivalent to sleeping for 6 hours. While the timeframe is entirely up to the individual’s choice, there have been companies and health centers that advertise the need for personalized meditation recommendations. Ironically, these organizations publicize that based on precision measurements, they fine-tune the meditation duration—such as decrease it to as low as 7-12 minutes. But, meditation is a universal practice that purely follows mindfulness techniques to relieve stress. When that’s the case, we are not bound to customize meditation timings, change the timings depending on precision values, or ensure precision in meditation duration depending on the individual. Just sit back, relax, meditate, and reap the benefits of this glorious technique that’s replete with benefits for the mind and the body.
Practice meditation to improve blood pressure and diabetes distress levels, achieve glycemic stability, and control weight besides achieving emotional balance. Research in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that transcendental meditation practice helped diabetics control blood sugar levels, reduce insulin resistance, and lower blood pressure. Mindful meditation helps in making thoughtful decisions that include choosing what to eat wisely, ignoring desires to grab a piece of cake, and increasing the possibilities of going for a walk. Just like how regular exercise benefits the body, meditating regularly benefits the mind and must be a part of the diabetes self-management strategy. Before anything else, try practicing meditation regularly and then go into the nuances of time management. Never worry about short or long durations as you can meditate as per your time availability. Ignore the fine-tuning process without worrying about changing meditation durations based on rise or fall in blood sugar levels.
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