Mind-body medicine, or Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), explores the complex relationship between psychological and spiritual conditions, and physical well-being. The "psycho" portion of the word refers to your thinking, emotions and mood states. "Neuro" refers to the neurological and neuroendocrine systems in your body. "Immunology" refers to your cellular structures and immune system.
Mind-body medicine explores the influence of your mind and emotions on your body and immune system, and vice versa. The notion is that the immune system "eavesdrops" on the internal environment. Mind-body specialists are typically psychologists or other mental health professionals who use a variety of techniques to promote health and healing.
Mind-Body Medicine in Cancer Care
During traditional cancer care, patients usually only have access to their oncologist, who focuses on treatments to fight the disease. This is consistent with the medical model in their training as health care professionals. But what about the psychological and spiritual repercussions of cancer? Without access to these resources, the patient's experience becomes much more difficult.
Mind-body medicine can provide added support during a time when you need it most. Some of the potential benefits of mind-body therapies during cancer care may include:
- Reduce disease and treatment-related side effects (e.g., pain, nausea, muscle tension, anxiety, depression)
- Improve recovery time and reduce pain following surgical procedures
- Provide a sense of control, empowerment
- Reduce stress
- Improve mood, coping abilities and quality of life
Tips for Nurturing Your Psychological Well-Being
During Cancer Care
- Find a new outlook. Try to figure out how cancer fits into your life. This can be a very challenging task. However, if you are able to accept the situation and focus on what you can change (not on what you can’t change), it will help you move forward and focus on living.
- Try not to generalize. Cancer means something different to each individual. While some individuals may share similar feelings, everyone experiences cancer differently and your experience is unique to you.
- Talk about your feelings. Communicate how you feel to others to take the pressure off yourself. If you are not up to talking on the phone or having visitors, appoint a family member to be a point of contact.
- Build a support system. A support network allows you to talk about your concerns, evaluate the decisions you need to make, and help you feel less isolated. Reach out to family and friends, other cancer survivors, a spiritual leader, etc.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Caring for your psychological well-being helps care for your physical well-being, and vice versa. Pay attention to your needs for rest, nutrition, exercise and private time. Talk with your doctor about making healthy lifestyle choices.
- Don’t be reluctant to seek professional counseling. Psychological care is normal and necessary, and is an integral part of cancer care. Ask your health care provider for a referral to a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, pastoral counselor, local support group, etc.
Mind-Body Tools and Techniques
Mind-body medicine uses a variety of techniques designed to help you direct your energies toward healing and health. You can apply the following techniques throughout your life, not just throughout your cancer treatment:
- Psychotherapy: Involves individual, couples, family, and/or group therapy sessions led by a professional therapist. It can help in various areas, including improve coping skills; regulate mood; overcome anxiety and depression; and enjoy life.
- Imagery: A relaxation method that uses the imagination to create sights, sounds, smells, or other sensations to create a deep sense of comfort, relaxation and nurturance. Techniques may help reduce stress, anxiety and depression, relieve pain, lower blood pressure, ease some of the side effects of cancer treatment, and create feelings of being in control.
- Meditation: A relaxation method that uses concentration or reflection (e.g., focused breathing, repetition of words or phrases) to relax the body and quiet the mind. Meditation may help reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and alleviate pain and other symptoms.
- Hypnosis: A relaxation method that involves a state of relaxed and focused attention (restful alertness) in which a person uses deeply focused concentration. It may help reduce fear, anxiety and pain, and create an overall sense of well-being.
- Biofeedback: A relaxation method that uses monitoring devices to help a person regulate specific body functions (e.g., heart rate, temperature, breathing rate, muscle tension). It may help reduce stress, promote relaxation and improve quality of life.
- Humor/Laughter therapy: The use of humor to stimulate the circulatory system, immune system and other systems in the body. It may help provide pain relief, encourage relaxation, reduce stress and improve quality of life.
- Stress management interventions: This includes techniques like charting to help people identify stressful events and their reactions to them, and gain needed emotional and social support.
- Creative therapies: Use of creative outlets, such as art, music, dance, poetry, etc. to help people express their emotions, increase self-awareness and better manage physical and emotional problems.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: This explores how patterns of thinking affect behaviors; and aims to help people address repeated negative thoughts to create positive internal dialogue. It may help improve self esteem, mood, anxiety, etc.
- Yoga: A non-aerobic exercise therapy that involves systems of stretches and poses, breathing exercises and meditation. Yoga may help improve sleep, posture, strength, flexibility, concentration, etc.
- Qigong: An energy therapy that involves a Chinese system of meditation, breathing and movement designed to enhance the natural flow of vital energy in the body. This therapy may help strengthen the body, manage pain and reduce anxiety.
- Tai Chi: An exercise therapy that involves an ancient Chinese martial art and is part of Qi gong. It involves slow, gentle movements accompanied by rhythmic breathing and concentration. It can relax the body and mind, reduce stress, and improve posture, balance, flexibility and strength.
- Reiki therapy: An energy therapy that involves balancing energy either from a distance, or by placing hands on or near the patient. It may help reduce stress and anxiety, increase energy and induce feelings of well-being.
- Therapeutic touch: Involves moving hands over energy fields of the body. It includes massage, reflexology and other manipulative/body-based methods to relieve muscle tension, stimulate circulation, and induce feelings of deep relaxation and tranquility.
- Aromatherapy: The use of fragrant substances (e.g., essential oils) distilled from plants that are either inhaled or applied during massage to help alter mood or improve health.
NOTE: THIS INFORMATION IS NOT INTENDED NOR IMPLIED TO BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ADVICE. ALWAYS SEEK THE ADVICE OF YOUR PHYSICIAN OR OTHER QUALIFIED HEALTH CARE PROVIDER PRIOR TO INCORPORATING ANY MIND-BODY TECHNIQUES INTO YOUR CARE.
Mind-Body Medicine at CTCA
At Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), cancer care means total care for the whole person—body, mind and spirit. Here, we offer traditional and innovative cancer treatments and technologies, such as surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, along with nutrition therapy, naturopathic medicine and oncology rehabilitation. But we don’t stop there.
While our cancer experts strive to use every available resource to treat you physically, we understand there is more involved in your healing journey. The Mind-Body Medicine Program at CTCA strives to nurture your psychological well-being. The program is led by therapists who provide techniques to help support you throughout your cancer treatment.
Some of the mind-body services we offer to you and your family include:
- Individual, couple and family counseling
- Stress management classes
- Relaxation, deep breathing, guided imagery training
- Humor/Laughter therapy
- Psychoeducational and support groups
- Energy therapies
- Educational resources
These mind-body techniques can become important tools in your peace of mind and well-being, and may help improve your quality of life during cancer care.
At CTCA, we use an integrative approach to treat the whole person, not just the disease. Our cancer experts aim to help you become physically, nutritionally, psychologically and spiritually fit to fight cancer. We provide this personalized, comprehensive cancer care all in one place so you don’t have to go beyond our facility to get the care you need and deserve.
I hope this information has helped you in some way. I will check in with you again next month. In the meantime, stay strong and hopeful.