Stress is a part of life that everyone faces to different degrees on a regular basis. Stress can lead to depression, anxiety and changes in immune function. Those diagnosed with breast cancer specifically face the stress of their diagnosis and treatment, which can result in a decreased quality of life.
Each day in the clinic as a naturopathic oncology provider, I work with women on stress reduction. This can be through the use of nutrients, botanicals and lifestyle recommendations such as exercise, meditation, dietary interventions and or counseling.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2012 showed that mindfulness can help improve overall mood, promote emotional, physical and social well-being, and decrease anxiety, depression and anger.
Exactly what is mindfulness? Mindfulness is a practice of bringing complete attention to the experience of the present moment in a nonjudgmental and accepting way. Mindfulness allows the individual to be fully in the present. The practice allows you to focus on the present moment without relating it to the past or concern about the future.
In addition, mindfulness was also shown to improve endocrine-related side effects of those diagnosed with breast cancer. That is a very important finding for those on endocrine treatments such as tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor for five years or more. Various studies show that approximately 50 percent of women will not take these endocrine treatments for the full five years, increasing their risk of recurrence. Therefore any integrative oncology services that can help women tolerate treatments is an important finding.
The program in the study was divided into eight weekly classes of 2.25 hours in length plus one full day of mindfulness in week six. The classes included mindfulness practices, such as a body scan, yoga based stretches and sitting meditation.
A body scan is a practice that is usually done lying down in which you bring your attention to your body and begin to connect with your physical being. You begin by focusing on your toes and noting how they feel. Can you feel each toe individually? You then continue this attention and connection to each part of your body as you scan upwards from your toes. All while you are paying attention to your breath and the wave of breath in and out. This allows you to begin to learn how to bring your attention in to the present.
The study intervention also included group discussions and education with home-based work on perceptions and reactions to life events, stress physiology and mindfulness in communication and everyday life.
When talking with patients, I will often hear about past experiences or concern for the future which can cause deep anxiety and depression. Practicing mindfulness can often help the individual begin to focus on the present moment without judgment, which can free you of the past or concern for the future. We all have past experiences and we must honor those experiences. Mindfulness allows you to begin to move more fully into the present.
Learn about mind-body medicine during cancer care.
Read 10 tips for managing stress during cancer treatment.