Using Mindfulness to Reduce Stress and Promote Healing from Cancer Treatment
Mindfulness is defined in many ways, but I like to think of it as being non-judgmentally present in the moment. It’s a time to focus on your breath and be aware of what’s going on in the present, not the past or future. Research show us that mindfulness, when practiced regularly, can be a big stress reliever that benefits the immune system, both which can help in the healing process for those who have undergone treatment for cancer. It’s also being explored by schools, sports teams and military units to enhance performance and is showing great promise as a way of helping sufferers of chronic illnesses and addiction.
Breathing with awareness and intention causes an immediate decrease in the flight, fight or freeze response, lowers blood pressure and heart rate, and promotes relaxation. Here’s how it works: after a consistent mindfulness practice, the brain’s “fight or flight” center, the amygdala, appears to shrink. This primal region of the brain associated with fear and emotion is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress. As the amygdala shrinks, the pre-frontal cortex – associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker. In other words, our primal responses to stress become less over time and are superseded by more thoughtful ones. This reduces anxiety and stress, which then helps strengthen our immune system.
Beginning to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine can be easy. You don’t have to be in a pose or fancy position. You can simply sit in a chair for a few minutes and do some deep breathing. The basic idea is simple. Every time your mind begins to shifts its spotlight away from your breath and you get lost in thought, simply bring your attention back to your breath. Then, over time, you will begin experiencing calming effects, lower your blood pressure, better sleep and the many other benefits associated with mindfulness. There are also some great apps that help with mindfulness including Calm and Headspace.
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness, reducing your risk of cancer, or OHC’s cancer treatments, please browse our website and download our patient newsletters. Or call us toll-free at 1-800-710-4674.