Science has shown that stress can depress the immune system and hinder the body’s ability to heal-the last thing we want while fighting cancer. But there’s no way around it-cancer is stressful. So how do we relax in the midst of all the turmoil?
The Lee Moffitt Cancer Center says to ask yourself these questions: a) Is cancer the first thing I think about every morning and the last thing I think about at night? b) Has cancer changed my life so much that I don’t know how to manage now? c) Do I feel like no one understands what I’m going through? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be experiencing too much stress for your health. Talk to your doctor, and try some of these coping techniques.
1. Exercise. Walking is considered by some to be the perfect exercise-even better for stress relief if you can do it outside, close to nature. According to Joyce O’Shaughnessy, M.D., a medical oncologist at the University of Texas Medical School, Dallas, “Aerobic exercise, even like just walking, makes a difference during chemotherapy.” According to a 1999 study, those who walked regularly had lower stress levels than those who didn’t.
2. Meditate. Meditation helps you let go of all the worries and anxieties plaguing your mind, so you can relax in the moment. Find a quiet spot to sit comfortably, and concentrate on the in and out of your breath, letting the thoughts in your mind come and go. Most experts recommend you start with 10 minutes a day, then gradually increase to 20-30 minutes.
3. Try yoga. Yoga encourages relaxation and stress relief by combining physical poses with mental focus. It can also help gently stretch the muscles, encouraging muscular relaxation and mental peace at the same time.
4. Spend time in guided imagery. In guided imagery, you use your imagination to encourage relaxation and positive emotions. Cancer patients often imagine themselves without the cancerous cells, or feeling happy and energetic. The Guided Imagery Resource Center has tools to help you get started.
5. Get some group support. Studies have shown that support groups help cancer patients live longer. “The opportunity to share thoughts and concerns and express even the most frightening feelings,” says Dr. David Spiegel, “offers enormous comfort, allows you to realize you are reacting normally to an abnormal situation, and helps you regain your emotional balance while significantly reducing your stress.”
6. Listen to relaxing music. According to Kristina Collins, writing for thecancerblog.com, Baroque music has been found in studies to help reduce stress by increasing the alpha waves in the brain. Try composers like Handel and Bach, or choose something else you like that helps you feel calm.
7. Get a massage. Surrendering to the touch of a skilled therapist can do a lot to relax your mind and body. “Safe and caring touch provides a human connection that promotes relaxation and emotional well-being,” says the Northwestern Health Sciences University.
8. Try biofeedback. If your stress usually shows up as migraines, ulcers, chronic intestinal problems, or increased intensity of side effects, biofeedback may be the stress-relieving technique for you. It’s a technique that trains you to control certain bodily processes like heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and skin temperature. With help from a biofeedback therapist, you learn to change these functions-lower your blood pressure, or your level of pain, for instance. Biofeedback has been known to reduce stress, pain, and muscle tension, and to help improve sleep.
9. Use herbal remedies. Spearmint and chamomile teas are both mildly relaxing. Passionflower is a little stronger, and can work almost like a sedative. St. John’s Wort can relieve depression and anxiety, while kava can help you feel more relaxed without feeling drugged. (Check with your doctor before taking any of these supplements to be sure they don’t interfere with your treatments.)
10. Be aware of your limits. There are some days when you’re just not going to be able to do everything you’d like to do. Don’t add to your stress by feeling badly about it. Learn when to say “no,” ask for help when you need it, don’t take on more than you can handle, and take time to do something you enjoy every day.
How do you lower stress during cancer? Please share your tips.
Photo courtesy avotiya via Flickr.com.