Mindfulness Practices May Help Reduce Fatigue

A new study found that people with rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis who practice mindfulness or engage in meaningful activities experience fewer problems from fatigue.1 The study was recently published in Arthritis Care & Research.

The RA fatigue problem

Fatigue is a common issue for people with RA and other chronic illnesses. It can hamper the ability to work and the kinds of jobs they can do, along with engaging in other usual activities.

For example, people with this kind of fatigue may lack the energy to exercise, do housework, visit family, go out in the community, and so much more. Fatigue can severely impact quality of life. It can also appear or worsen even if the RA condition is generally well-managed.

Multiple factors contribute to fatigue

Other research indicates that fatigue cannot be fully explained by RA damage or pain. Mood can also influence the level of fatigue. But generally, fatigue is a great mystery and treatments are lacking that address this significant symptom.

As people living with RA, we all know how debilitating fatigue can be on our daily lives and how it can come out of nowhere, with no warning. The origins may be a mystery, but it is a very real and terrible symptom of the disease.

The study on mindfulness and fatigue

The researchers aimed to understand how an individual’s psychological condition on any day relates to the fatigue experience. Participants completed a daily online journal for 10 days to rate their experience of fatigue and pain. They also rated daily mindfulness (or the extent of being present in the moment) and participation in activities they found to be meaningful.

The researchers were seeking to identify psychological flexibility or the ability to be aware and accepting of their personal situation and are able to adapt or persist in life.

Fatigue, pain, and disability

When they looked for patterns in the data, one of the most common comorbidities were depression and/or anxiety (11.6 percent).1 Additionally, the results showed that fatigue explained 54.3 percent of the daily variation in related disability and 5.1 percent was explained by pain.1

Of course, fatigue and pain contribute to depression and anxiety, and vice versa. But clearly, fatigue has a huge impact on RA-related disability experiences.

The researchers said:1

Psychological flexibility plays an important role in fatigue-related disability in the daily lives of inflammatory arthritis patients...On days when patients engaged in more valued activity or were more mindful of their experiences, they were significantly less disabled by their fatigue.

Future research will examine if improving psychological flexibility can reduce fatigue impacts and could involve testing an intervention or a program for increasing an individual’s psychological flexibility.

How does mindfulness help with fatigue?

A person with RA may question the usefulness of studies like these, but I find it reassuring that doing activities that I love and make me happy can help alleviate my fatigue. Whether I realized it, I have been practicing mindful activities my whole life, in my own way.

In my own experience, I have found doing activities I love can help me to feel better and alleviate my RA symptoms. Spending time with people I enjoy, going to museums or attending an arts performance, listening to music, working on a project, and other enjoyable activities where I can get out of my head and body lessen the pain and fatigue a little.

The benefits of meditation for me

As a person who practices meditation, I find it helps to just sit and breathe for a few minutes even when I am having a bad flare day. While meditating doesn’t erase my fatigue or pain, it helps calm my response to these jangling experiences that aggravate my nerves.

Different ways to practice mindfulness

Mindfulness can come in many forms — each unique to the individual practicing them. Sometimes a stroll outside can be as mindful as sitting on a cushion to meditate. I even find that getting into a mindful groove with my work can be helpful.

So, if some mindfulness can alleviate the fatigue, pick your activity of choice and practice!

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