More than 35 million people worldwide and 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection. In 1996, the advent of the protease inhibitor and the so-called cocktail changed the prognosis for HIV. Since this development a 20 year old infected with HIV can now expect to live on average to age 69. Hence, living with HIV is a long-term reality for a very large group of people.
People living with HIV infection experience a wide array of physical and psychological symptoms which decrease their perceived quality of life. The symptoms include muscle aches, depression, weakness, fear/worries, difficulty with concentration, concerns regarding the need to interact with a complex healthcare system, stigma, and the challenge to come to terms with a new identity as someone living with HIV. Hence there is a need to find methods to improve the quality of life in people who are living with HIV infection.
Mindfulness has been shown to improve psychological and physical well-being in people suffering from a wide range of disorders (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/why-is-mindfulness-so-beneficial/ and http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/how-do-mindfulness-based-interventions-improve-mental-health/). So, it would stand to reason that mindfulness would also be beneficial for people who are living with HIV infection.
In today’s Research News article “Dispositional mindfulness in people with HIV: Associations with psychological and physical health”
Moskowitz and colleagues investigated the mindfulness, appraisal, positive and negative affect, coping, and indicators of psychological well-being and physical health of a group of primarily male HIV positive individuals. They found that mindfulness has significantly associated with a number of positive indicators of psychological well-being. HIV infected individuals who were high in mindfulness were found to have lower depression, lower perceived stress, fewer hassles, less negative affect, less escape-avoidance and self-blame forms of coping and more positive affect.
There are a number of potential explanations for the association of mindfulness with improved psychological well-being. The study demonstrated that the association between mindfulness and lower depression was mediated by lower perceived stress and negative emotions. This makes sense as mindfulness has been shown to reduce both the physical and psychological responses to stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/destress-with-mindfulness/) and it is also known to improve emotion regulation (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/10/take-command-and-control-of-your-emotions/) and stress reduction and emotion regulation are helpful in relieving depression. In addition, since mindful individuals are more attuned to the present moment they may be better able to deal with whatever symptoms are present and not worry and catastrophize about the future.
The results are impressive. They are, however, only associations and it cannot be concluded that there is a causal link between mindfulness and the improved psychological well-being. A trial where mindfulness training is actively manipulated is needed to resolve this issue. Nevertheless, these results are suggestive that mindfulness training may be a way to help the vast numbers of people living with HIV infection adapt and cope with the physical and psychological issues associated with living with infection.
So, be mindful of HIV
“I’m not cured, but the HIV is asleep deep in my body.”- Magic Johnson
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies