How Mindfulness Can Help You Cope With Cancer
Getting diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment can bring on an avalanche of emotions. Mindfulness is a way to help deal with those feelings and keep them from spiraling out of control.
But what is mindfulness? Its simply slowing down and paying attention to the present moment.
We spend a lot of time worrying about the future or thinking about the past, said Lauren A. Zimmaro, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Fox Chase Cancer Center. But mindfulness is focusing on that sweet spot right in between: life thats happening right now.
That might sound simple, but it can be surprisingly effective. Mindfulness can reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression as well as make life feel more enjoyable.
For individuals affected by cancer, bouts of stress and anxiety can be normal occurrences. Just seeing an upcoming treatment appointment on your calendar can trigger anxiety over possible side effects, and feeling some pain near your tumor or treatment site might lead you to worry about whether youre ever going to get better.
But you can use mindfulness to steer clear of those dark corners and have a more positive outlook overall. Research conducted by Zimmaro and others even suggests that for those with cancer, mindfulness can reduce pain and fatigue as well as ease sleeplessness.
Talking About How You Feel
Many people do not like talking about cancer and how it is affecting them. You may find the idea of talking upsetting or uncomfortable. But talking to someone about how you feel can help you cope with your emotions. Talking about things can make you feel supported. It can also help you make decisions that are best for you.
If you can, talk openly about your feelings with people you trust. It can help you feel less anxious or frightened. Try to start a conversation and say how you feel. You may be surprised at how willing people are to listen and support you.
Ways To Ease Stress And Anxiety During Cancer Treatment
Whether you have an upcoming CT scan or are expecting news from your doctor, waiting can cause anxiety, worry and stress. You might have trouble sleeping or feel impatient with your loved ones. All of this is completely normal. Here at MD Anderson, we call that scanxiety.The good news is there are many ways to deal with scanxiety. To help make the waiting game a little easier, we asked our Facebook community how they cope with the stress or anxiety before an important scan or appointment. Here’s what they had to say:
- Pray. Many of our patients and caregivers said they found comfort in prayer. Because they feel a loss of control, praying allows them do what they can and then let go of those anxious feelings.
- Have faith and confidence in your care team. Know that our doctors and the rest of your care team will take care of everything. That’s their job.
- Listen to your favorite music. Whether you’re in the waiting room, in your car or at home or work, music can help you escape from the realities of cancer, or find the strength and determination to face them head-on.
- Find humor. Nothing eases tension like laughter.
You May Like: Where Are Stress Migraines Located
Dealing With Your Emotions
Theres no right or wrong way to feel after a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Youll probably go through many emotions, from fear, shock and anger to disbelief, sadness and numbness.
Your emotions may change day to day or even hour to hour. Its usual to have times when you feel very low followed by times when things seem more positive.
The days and weeks immediately after a diagnosis can be particularly emotional and feel overwhelming.
Many people start to feel a bit calmer or less anxious once they have been told about their treatment plan.
Feelings Of Physical Emotional Social Or Spiritual Distress Can Make It Hard To Cope With Cancer Treatment
Almost all patients living with cancer have feelings of distress. Feelings of distress range from sadness and fears to more serious problems such as depression, anxiety, panic, feeling uncertain about spiritual beliefs, or feeling alone or separate from friends and family.
Patients who are in distress during any phase of cancer need treatment and support. Patients are more likely to need to be checked and treated for distress during the following periods:
- At the start of treatment.
- At the end of treatment.
- During remission.
- If the cancer comes back.
- If the goal of treatment changes from curing or controlling cancer to palliative therapy to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.
You May Like: Can You Be Stressed And Depressed At The Same Time
Purpose Of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary has current information about normal adjustment issues, and the pathophysiology and treatment of psychosocial distress and the adjustment disorders. It is meant to inform and help patients, families, and caregivers. It does not give formal guidelines or recommendations for making decisions about health care.
How Can I Manage My Stress
Feeling stressed and overwhelmed is not a sign that youre failing as a caregiver. But, since stress can affect your health, it is important to find ways to manage it. Here are some coping tips:
Educate yourself. Learning as much as you can about your loved ones cancer, how its treated and what resources are available to you can help reduce uncertainty and stress.
Ask for help with medical tasks. Caregivers can feel unprepared to provide the medical care their loved one needs at home. If there are responsibilities you are unsure about, discuss them with the members of your loved ones health care team. Make sure you understand their instructions, and write them down so you dont forget what you need to do. Find out who you can call with any questions that come up.
Get support. Consider speaking directly with a nurse, doctor or pharmacist about your concerns. One-on-one conversations can help keep things simple, provide reassurance and give you information tailored to your needs.
Eat healthy. Sometimes it may be easiest to grab fast food or to skip a meal, but dont make this a habit. Strive to eat balanced meals regularly. A diet that consists mostly of plant-based foods is best. Include plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Get plenty of rest. Practice good sleeping habits by taking time to wind down and relax before bedtime, and try to get six to eight hours of sleep per night. Practicing relaxation techniques and deep-breathing exercises can also help reduce stress.
How Does Psychological Stress Affect People Who Have Cancer
People who have cancer may find the physical, emotional, and social effects of the disease to be stressful. Those who attempt to manage their stress with risky behaviors such as smoking or drinking alcohol or who become more sedentary may have a poorer quality of life after cancer treatment. In contrast, people who are able to use effective coping strategies to deal with stress, such as relaxation and stress management techniques, have been shown to have lower levels of depression, anxiety, and symptoms related to the cancer and its treatment. However, there is no evidence that successful management of psychological stress improves cancer survival.
Evidence from experimental studies does suggest that psychological stress can affect a tumors ability to grow and spread. For example, some studies have shown that when mice bearing human tumors were kept confined or isolated from other miceconditions that increase stresstheir tumors were more likely to grow and spread . In one set of experiments, tumors transplanted into the mammary fat pads of mice had much higher rates of spread to the lungs and lymph nodes if the mice were chronically stressed than if the mice were not stressed. Studies in mice and in human cancer cells grown in the laboratory have found that the stress hormone norepinephrine, part of the bodys fight-or-flight response system, may promote angiogenesis and metastasis.
An Easy Introductory Relaxation Method
You May Like: Can Stress Cause Heart Palpitations
How Can I Learn To Relax
There are a number of exercises that you can do to relax. These exercises include breathing, muscle and mind relaxation, relaxation to music, and biofeedback. A few that you can try are listed below. First, be sure that you have a quiet location that is free of distractions, a comfortable body position and a good state of mind. Try to block out worries and distracting thoughts.
Medicine May Be Used Alone Or Combined With Other Types Of Treatment For Anxiety Disorders
Antianxiety medicines may be used alone or combined with other psychological therapies. These medicines relieve symptoms of anxiety, such as feelings of fear, dread, uneasiness, and muscle tightness. They may relieve daytime distress and lessen trouble sleeping.
Studies show that antidepressants are useful in treating anxiety disorders. Children and teenagers being treated with antidepressants have an increased risk of thinking about suicide and suicide and must be watched closely. See the Treatment section of the PDQ summary on Depression for more information.
Also Check: Why Am I So Stressed
A Cancer Diagnosis May Cause Anxiety Disorders To Come Back In Patients With A History Of Them
When patients who had an anxiety disorder in the past are diagnosed with cancer, the anxiety disorder may come back. These patients may feelextreme fear, be unable to remember new information, orbe unable to follow through with medical tests and procedures.
Symptoms of anxiety disorders include the following:
- Shortness of breath.
- Being afraid they are having a heart attack.
- Being afraid they are going crazy.
Patients Who Are Adjusting To The Changes Caused By Cancer May Have Distress
Distress can occur when patients feel they are unable to manage or control changes caused by cancer. Patients with the same diagnosis or treatment can have different levels of distress. Patients have less distress when they feel the demands of the diagnosis and treatment are low or the amount of support they get is high. For example, a health care professional can help the patient adjust to the side effects of chemotherapy by giving medicine for nausea.
Also Check: Can Eczema Come From Stress
Anxiety Disorders Are Strong Fears That May Be Caused By Physical Or Psychological Stress
Studies show that almost half of all patients with cancer say they feel some anxiety and about one-fourth of all patients with cancer say they feel a great deal of anxiety. A patient may become more anxious as cancerspreads or treatment becomes more aggressive. This is especially true for patients who had an anxiety disorder before their cancer diagnosis and may lead to the recurrence of the anxiety disorder.
For some patients, anxiety may feel like it is more than they can handle and affect cancer treatment.
Patients are more likely to have anxiety disorders during cancer treatment if they have any of the following:
- A history of an anxiety disorder.
- A history of physical or emotional trauma.
- Anxiety at the time of diagnosis.
- Few family members or friends to give them support.
- Severe pain that is not controlled well.
- Cancer that is not getting better with treatment.
- Trouble taking care of their personal needs such as bathing or eating.
Here Are 7 Tips To Maintain Or Improve Emotional Well
1. Talk to someone who is not a family member.
While it can seem overwhelming to meet with a clinical social worker, these experts are trained to help on a one-time, short-term or long-term basis. By allowing yourself the opportunity to talk to someone other than friends or family, you get a trusted person to talk to while allowing your family to be just family.
2. Continue with daily activities, but modify if necessary.
Modifying normal tasks, habits and activities is not failure it’s good self-care. Maybe you can’t camp for a full week far away, but could you camp for a couple of days closer to home?
3. Plan ahead.
If you know you might need transportation or could benefit from a program, such as Meals on Wheels, do some research ahead of time or enlist the help of a friend who enjoys planning. Not only can this help you avoid a last-minute scramble, but also checking on community resources in advance can help you understand your choices, lower your stress, and give you peace of mind and some control at a time things around you may seem out of control.
4. Find support that works for you.
For some people, it’s really important to connect with others going through the same thing. Support could be a monthly in-person group, a one-time class, or ongoing education about self-care, caregiving, nutrition or legal resources. For others, it may be important to explore short-term counseling with a clinical social worker.
5. Balance in-person and online support.
7. Reach out.
Recommended Reading: Can Stress Cause Diarrhea In Dogs
What Are Adjustment Disorders
Adjustment disorders may cause serious problems in daily life. An adjustment disorder occurs when the patient’s reaction to a stressful event:
- Is more severe than the expected amount of distress.
- Affects relationships or causes problems at home or work.
- Includes symptoms of depression and anxiety or other emotional, social, or behavioral problems.
Causes of adjustment disorders in cancer patients include the following:
- Side effects of treatment.
An adjustment disorder usually begins within three months of a stressful event and lasts no longer than six months after the event is over. Some patients may have a chronic adjustment disorder because they have many causes of distress, one right after another.
An adjustment disorder may become a more serious mental disorder such as major depression. This is more common in children and adolescents than in adults.
Counseling can help patients with adjustment disorders.
Individual and group counseling have been shown to help cancer patients with adjustment disorders. Counseling may include treatment that focuses on the patient’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
The following may help patients cope:
- Relaxation training.
- Plan for events that may happen in the future.
- Change beliefs that are not true.
- Thought stopping.
- Positive thoughts.
If Youre Feeling Overwhelmed
Its normal to feel overwhelmed when youve been diagnosed with cancer.
It can be hard to think straight or carry out normal everyday activities.
Some people have physical symptoms such as loss of appetite, diarrhoea or difficulty sleeping.
If youre feeling overwhelmed, it can help to talk to your GP. They can offer support and medication that can help in the short term.
Recommended Reading: How Do I Stop Stress Incontinence
Positive Role Of The Emotions
Research suggests that there is a positive role for the emotions in cancer. For, just as an attitude of hopelessness and helplessness may hurt a persons chances for health or recovery, so an attitude of determination, hope, and fighting back can help lead to a positive outcome. If bottling up emotional expression and holding a reservoir of tension inside can create a dangerous load of chronic stress, learning to let go can reduce that burden and its risk.
This perspective has led many physicians and patients to recognize that a comprehensive approach to cancer includes dealing with the emotional and stress-related aspects of the disease. Even physicians who are skeptical of the role of stress in the onset of cancer generally speak of the will to live as an important element of treatment. Adding counseling and stress-reduction techniques to traditional medical care is becoming more common.
Cancer treatment is beginning to focus on the whole person, as Plato put it, and on how the patient may actively join in the rehabilitation effort.
How Does The Body Respond During Stress
The body responds to physical, mental, or emotional pressure by releasing stress hormones that increase blood pressure, speed heart rate, and raise blood sugar levels. These changes help a person act with greater strength and speed to escape a perceived threat.
Research has shown that people who experience intense and long-term stress can have digestive problems, fertility problems, urinary problems, and a weakened immune system. People who experience chronic stress are also more prone to viral infections such as the flu or common cold and to have headaches, sleep trouble, depression, and anxiety.
Also Check: What Is Stress Testing In Banking