Cancer is a difficult journey, both physically and mentally. While traditional cancer treatment plays a crucial role in healing, incorporating alternative approaches can enhance the healing process and improve overall well-being. Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can often come with a host of side effects that can impact a patient’s mental and physical wellness. Mindfulness is an alternative approach that many cancer patients turn to as a supplement to traditional treatment. Mindfulness has been shown to be effective in managing the stress, pain, and difficult emotions that come with cancer.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present and engaged in the current moment, without judgment. The concept of mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditation, but it has become widely adopted in Western cultures, particularly in the field of psychology. Over the last 40 years, there have been many clinical studies demonstrating the effectiveness of mindfulness on well-being, and in particular, for both cancer patients and their caregivers.
Mindfulness is a set of techniques that help to connect with a state of mind that is aware and in control. It is achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. When it comes to cancer where so much feels out of control, mindfulness can help practitioners regain a sense of control and inner peace during a challenging time.
How can mindfulness help cancer patients?
- Reduces stress and anxiety: Cancer treatment undoubtedly causes physical and emotional stress. Mindfulness practices can help manage this stress by teaching patients how to stay present in the moment. Techniques like deep breathing and meditation can help to reduce feelings of worry and fear, promote a sense of calm and relaxation, and help to cope with the physical and emotional demands of treatment.
- Improves sleep: Many cancer patients struggle with sleep due to side effects of treatment or anxiety. Mindfulness practices can help patients detach from worry thoughts and release tension in the body in order to relax and fall asleep more easily. This leads to better quality of sleep and increased energy levels, which is so important for healing.
- Improves mental clarity: Cancer and its treatment can often lead to feelings of confusion, brain fog, and disorientation. Practicing mindfulness can help clear the mind, improve focus, and enhance mental alertness.
- Increased physical comfort: Mindfulness can also help manage physical symptoms associated with cancer treatment such as pain, nausea, and fatigue. By paying attention to their bodies and breathing, patients can learn how to manage these symptoms and feel more comfortable.
- Boosts the immune system: Studies have shown that mindfulness practices can increase the activity of natural killer cells, which play a crucial role in the immune system’s ability to fight cancer.
- Enhances emotional well-being: Grappling with a cancer diagnosis can lead to feelings of sadness, anger and frustration. Mindfulness can help patients accept challenging feelings, while also promoting positive emotions and improving overall emotional balance.
Simple ways to practice mindfulness during cancer treatment:
- Deep breathing: Taking slow, deep breaths can help calm the mind and reduce stress and anxiety by balancing the nervous system and anchoring into the present moment.
- Meditation: Regular meditation can help quiet the mind, reduce stress, and promote relaxation. Guided meditation can be easier for beginners.
- Gratitude: Focusing on the good things that are happening can help shift your focus from negative thoughts to positive ones.
- Body scan: A body scan involves paying attention to each part of your body, from head to toe, the process of which naturally releases tension and promotes relaxation, as well as assists in pain management.
- Mindful walk: Taking a walk out in nature while paying attention to all the senses can boost positive feelings, clear the mind, and even enhance functioning of the immune system.
Incorporating mindfulness into your cancer journey can be a powerful accelerant to healing. By reducing stress and anxiety, improving sleep, and boosting physical and mental well-being, these practices can help patients better navigate the challenges of treatment and recovery. If you or a loved one is undergoing cancer treatment, consider adding mindfulness practices into your care plan for a holistic approach to healing.
Kayta Lovejoy has deep experience working in ancient and modern healing therapies. She holds degrees in neuroscience and clinical social work, as well as being certified in trauma-focused hypnotherapy and meditation. Learn more here.