'THINK' Yourself Well

How Mindfulness Helps Battle Cancer Fatigue-My Talk at Hillman Cancer Center

+ Pamela Friedman

MindfulnessAbout a month ago, I was honored to speak at the Hillman Cancer Center. I was part of a panel that addressed fatigue in cancer patients, and the various methods that help to restore energy. These included movement, touch, nutrition, and mindfulness.

They asked me to focus on mindfulness, which I was thrilled to do. As many of you know, I practice various forms of mindfulness every day, and find it to be not only energizing, but so important for mental clarity and physical wellness.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment, including how you feel mentally, physically, and spiritually within that moment. If you practice mindfulness, you use techniques to quiet the everyday “chatter” in the mind and bring your thoughts back to the present and all that this moment holds for you.

The practice of mindfulness can help you feel more energy because it clears your mind of all that nonsense that clutters it up every day. The worries, the to-do lists, the negative self-talk, the fears about the future. For cancer patients, this can be especially important-you have to have somewhere to put all your fears, worries, and anxieties. Once you’ve let them go, your body feels lighter and your mind clearer-and suddenly your energy returns.

Four Ways to Boost Your Energy

For the panel, I outlined four ways you can use mindfulness to increase your energy. Here are those four steps, and how you can start applying them in your life today!

1. Meditation Reduces Anxiety

Studies have found that meditation battles fatigue, anxiety and depression. Any cancer patient facing months or years of treatment, pain, and stress, can benefit from simple meditation techniques.

  • 2010 study found that regular mindfulness training, which included meditation, helped improve health-related quality of life and well being among individuals with MS. (Grossman et al., Neurology September 28, 2010 vol. 75 no. 13 1141-1149)
  • 2013 study found that breast cancer patients who received meditation therapy experienced reduced anxiety and fatigue, as well as an improved quality of life. (Kim et al., Complement Ther Med 2013 Aug;21(4):379-87)
  • A recent study review by The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found evidence to support the use of mindfulness to treat anxiety, depression, and pain.
  • Meditation has also been found in many studies to decrease heart rate, lower blood pressure, ease muscle tension, and improve mood-all of which benefit the cancer patient.

You may feel intimidated by the idea of meditation, thinking you have to do it just right, but seriously-it’s not complicated. To get started:

  • Set aside about 10-15 minutes a day, find a quiet place, sit comfortably, and close your eyes.
  • Take several deep breaths, and focus on one thing. This could be a simple word like “om” or “light,” or if you’re more visual, focus on a single candle flame or imagine a quiet lake or beautiful ocean. The key is to allow thoughts to come and go, and continually bring the mind back to that place of focus.
  • When your mind starts returning to those “chattering thoughts,” reminding you of your worries and the things you have to do and all the other blah blah blah, simply bring your attention back to the candle flame or your imaginary place or whatever you’re focusing on, blow out the air in your lungs, and relax.

The Transcendental Meditation Organization, founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, has a number of resources that can be really helpful for someone wanting to learn about this technique, including a database of instructors around the nation.

Yoga Helps Fight Fatigue

Most people think of yoga as being good for flexibility, which it is, but it’s also shown in a number of scientific studies to help with fatigue and related depression.

  • A recent study from Ohio State University researchers looked the effects of yoga in  breast cancer survivors. They found that women who followed a 12-week hatha yoga practice experienced an amazing 41 percent drop in fatigue. They also had lower markers for inflammation compared to a non-yoga control group. (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2014)
  • A 2012 meta-analysis of 19 clinical studies found that yoga had a positive effect on fatigue suffered by those suffering from cancer, MS, dialysis, chronic pancreatitis, fibromyalgia, and asthma. (Boehm et al., Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2012; September 6)

Fatigue-Busting Yoga Pose-Warrior

Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and your arms at your sides. Breathe deeply and evenly. Exhale as you step your feet wide apart, about 4 to 5 feet. Turn your right foot out 90 degrees, so your toes are pointing to the right. Pivot your left foot inwards at a 45-degree angle. Align your front heel with the arch of your back foot.

Keep your pelvis turned toward the front of your mat. Press your weight through your left heel. Exhale as you bend your right knee over your right ankle. Your shin should be perpendicular to the floor. Lift through the arches of your feet, while rooting down through your ankles.

Reach up through your arms. Gently tilt your head back and gaze up at your thumbs. Keep your shoulders dropped away from your ears. Feel your shoulder blades pressing firmly inward. Press down through the outer edge of your back foot, keeping your back leg straight. Hold for up to one minute.

Increase Your Toxin Awareness

What you are putting in and on your body could be dragging you down. Studies have linked chemicals in food, personal care products, and the environment to health problems, including fatigue, hormone disruption, allergies, skin disorders, and even cancer. We can become more mindful of what we’re exposing ourselves to. That means reading labels, and choosing safer, more natural and organic products.

Studies have shown that many of us are walking around with unhealthy chemicals in our bodies.

  • In a 2003 study, the CDC found widespread exposure to phthalates “at troubling levels.” The subgroup with the highest level of exposure was women of childbearing age.
  • In a study of over 2,500 people, the CDC found parabens (methylparaben and propylparaben) in the urine of most people tested, indicating widespread exposure in the U.S. Women had several-fold higher concentrations than men, indicating a greater use of products containing parabens, according to researchers.
  • The CDC reports that dioxin chemicals, which are by-products of manufacturing of many products, including many personal care products, are still present in the U.S. population. Scientists measured 26 of these chemicals in about 1,800 participants aged 12 years and older, and found low levels of all 26 in the U.S. population.

We can become more mindful of what we’re exposing ourselves to. That means reading labels, and choosing safer, more natural products. Start with my Ingredients to Avoid card!

Safe Self Care

It’s so important when you’re battling cancer to change your mindset to one of nurturing self-care. Focus more on what you need. If that’s a nap, take it. If it’s a better diet, choose healthier foods. Rediscover your passions, and make time for them. Give yourself permission to do what you enjoy, and allow yourself to refuel your body, mind and spirit.

This part of mindfulness involves simply becoming aware of how you approach your own care. Do you fight for your well being like you would that of someone you love? If you need something, do you do your best to fulfill that need? And finally, do you do something every day to help yourself feel good?

Simple changes like taking time out to spend with friends, listen to good music, enjoy nature, and indulge in your favorite hobbies can make a huge difference in your level of fatigue. Get excited about your life again, and you’ll have a stronger reason to get up in the morning!

Do you use these techniques to increase your energy and help your body heal? Please share your story.

Picture courtesy tiverylucky via freedigitalphotos.net.

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