Mindfulness as a Strategy to Reduce Stress
Mindfulness involves a focus and awareness of the present moment and can be a strategy for managing mental distress affecting cancer patients. Cancer is "very demanding on the body and mind. The practice of mindfulness can help patients learn ways to focus, calm their mind, and live more fully in the present moment, so they can better manage difficult thoughts and difficult feelings".1
What the research says
A 2012 Danish study found that mindfulness-based therapies, including yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, and mental training, are an effective way to manage depression and anxiety in cancer patients.1
Another 2011 study the in the Journal of Cancer Nursing reported that the majority of cancer patients who participated in mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy experienced positive effects including increased calm and well being, better sleep quality, improved energy, and reduced pain. Mindfulness-basedess based interventions have been reported to help patients deal with common experiences related to a cancer diagnosis, such as treatment, survivorship, loss of control, uncertainty about the future, anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue.2
The literature reports that as many as 45-65% of cancer patients report instances of depression, anxiety, and general distress. This distress lasts over time and can be accompanied by sleeping difficulty and fatigue. Cancer patients report struggling with questions of “why me?”, loss of control, loss of certainty and the practical problems of coping with day to day stressors including financial burdens.3
When initially diagnosed with cancer, I too experienced all the above symptoms of distress. I only wish that I had learned of mindfulness sooner.
Mindfulness is a term originally from Buddhist writings. It includes a mindful awareness and mindful practice. Shapiro defines mindfulness as "the awareness that arises through intentionally attending in an open, caring and non-judgmental way."3
The first component may include a short sitting meditation to help orient and encourage the present moment. The leader may discuss the home practice and explore problem solving around issues affecting the participants. The second component may include the practice of mindful yoga with varying postures of lying and sitting. The focus is on acceptance and awareness to assist the cancer patient who is often struggling with worries about the future. These can be lessened through focusing on the present and learning to allow events to unfold moment by moment. Mindfulness can promote body awareness and help the participant identify physical sensations related to stress. Studies have reported reduced stress, anxiety and preoccupation with cancer for patients practicing mindfulness.3
My adoption of mindfulness
I discovered and practiced mindfulness sessions during my chemotherapy. I experienced similar results as noted in the literature: reduced stressed symptoms, improved relaxation, less anger and improved concentration.
Mindfulness therapy is becoming more available for hospitalized patients. It is also being combined with art therapy, where a patient practices meditation and then expresses the experience through visual art outlets such as painting and drawing.
The practice of mindfulness has become part of my healthy routine as a strategy to live as a cancer survivor. The literature supports the usefulness of mindfulness in reducing stress, anxiety, anger, depression, mood disturbances and the improvement of the quality of life for cancer patients. I encourage you to talk to your health care team about giving it a try.
What type of blood cancer are you or your loved one diagnosed with?