Last week, air pollution in London got so bad that I escaped to East Anglia to stay with relatives. Needless to say, it wasn’t much better there. Apparently it was ’10’ on the Met Office’s Air Quality Index – i.e. the highest rating. Having a lung condition (bronchiectasis) means I get more breathless easily. Every time I ventured outside it felt as if a hand was pushing hard on my chest, making it impossible to get enough air. My eyes smarted, throat burned and the air tasted foul and metallic. I had to get an emergency inhaler because having ‘flat lungs’ is a frightening sensation, and spent most of the three days’ smog episode indoors.
On the positive side, not going out meant that I could concentrate on mindfulness training. I doubted its benefits initially. It’s getting easier. I find it useful to listen to a guided exercise while focusing on my breathing and relaxing any tension in the body. One phrase really stood out for me: ‘Your thoughts are not facts’. It sounds straightforward to apply this to your thoughts but it isn’t always the case. I’m doing mindfulness for health reasons, and it is easy for my thoughts to get carried away with ‘What Ifs?’.
I started a new osteoporosis medication two days ago, Actonel (Risedronate Sodium), and before doing any mindfulness my first thought would have been: ‘What if this drug gives me a horrendous reaction?’. Thanks to doing mindfulness regularly, I was able to take the tablet without a whirlwind of negative emotions rushing through my head. Instead, I thought: ‘This is a well-tolerated drug; lots of people take it regularly with no problems; although there are serious side-effects they are rare; I’m taking anti-histamines to prevent side-effects happening.’ In the end, I have had some palpitations and breathlessness but recognise that a) this could be due to anxiety and b) due to the bronchiectasis and recent bad air quality.
‘What Ifs?’ can hold you back if you get sucked into their downward spiral. One ‘What If?’ quickly leads to another, as I know from having health anxiety as well as rheumatoid arthritis, Ehlers-Danlos and more. It’s hard when you have health problems mixed in with health anxiety to separate the two. But mindfulness is allowing me to achieve that, and to leave the ‘What Ifs?’ behind.