5 min|Dr. Jam Caleda
Excuse Me, Mind The CancerWellness
Stress vs. Cancer
As part of our continuing series on Breast Cancer Awareness, it’s important to acknowledge a few of the things that might be on peoples’ minds, or in the case of this issue, what isn’t on their minds, or maybe what transcends the mind altogether. It’s safe to say that there are well-established correlations between excessive psychological stress and the prevalence of cancer, particularly if we don’t have the tools to be able to cope with these stresses.
A 1993 study, published in the Cambridge Psychology Medicine Journal, investigated the effects that psychological stress has on the risk of developing malignancy. It showed a positive trend in people who were unable to effectively cope with a traumatic event and the development of cancer.But our goal here isn’t about leading a stress-free life.
Let’s be realistic - it is impossible and frankly quite impractical. Stress is essential to health and very beneficial. Cortisol and epinephrine are our main stress hormones, they help us increase cognitive sharpness, be more alert, improve vision, allow us to jump higher or run faster, and provide extra fuel for our body’s musculoskeletal system; you never know when running from a crazed shitzu might happen throughout the week. It is when we don’t know how to effectively manage stress does this really become a problem.
Living in a modern paced life with normal everyday worries can easily run away with us without us even realizing it. In fact, the same Cambridge study remarkably revealed that small portions of stress throughout life actually reduce the chance of malignancy.
So what can we do?
Mindfulness is a great way to manage some of these gnawing mind lice that can bog us down. Mindfulness is a practice that brings awareness to what we are thinking about, acknowledging our thoughts and body, in each passing moment. It gives us the potential to understand why we are feeling the ways that we do and in turn do something about it. Some achieve mindfulness through meditation, exercise, music, yoga, and many other countless ways.
One study done in 2003 showed that mindfulness based stress reduction methods was associated with an enhanced quality of life and decreased stress symptoms in breast cancer and prostate cancer patients. A study here in Canada in 2010 showed that mindfulness practices not only improved symptoms and quality of life in breast cancer patients, but also in their partners when they did it together. In America a 2009 study helped recognize that anxiety and depression that surrounds cancer is effectively reduced with short daily meditations.Here I’ll provide a few practical tools that you can integrate into your daily life to practice mindfulness, even in our busy schedules.
Set the bar low; achieve what you can first
When it comes to embarking on a new activity it’s essential that we rig the event so that we ‘win’ every time. Start by setting short goals, meditating for 5 minutes, 2 minutes, or even just noticing your breath and breathing deep a few times a day counts. Take away the all or nothing mindset.
Do an activity that you enjoy
Whether it be exercise, yoga, dance, or silent meditative practices, do something you look forward to, you are more likely to do it consistently and achieve greater results. It’s a marathon not a sprint.
Integrate mindfulness in your daily routine
If you have a routine either in the morning or at night, simply adding a few minutes for your practice will greatly help the chances of doing it.
Smile while you practice
Smiling has been shown to increase the parasympathetic activity and the simple motions of the movements of the face in smiling can help induce pleasant thoughts. Plus other people may smile back.
Some apps and other resources for busy schedules
- Guided meditation: Tara Brach is a great teacher of Buddhist meditation, emotional healing and spiritual awakening. Her site has some great free guided meditations that are easy to follow. tarabrach.com
- Headspace: This is an application that you can download on your smart phone that can provide guided meditation sessions and other mindfulness training at a convenient and fun way. It allows you to track your progress, gives you statistics, and provides an interactive way to keep accountability on your mindfulness practice. headspace.com
- Calm: This app is just a nice interface to allow you to take a breath during your day and provides some calming stimulus. It’s convenient, free, and well designed. calm.com
- Stop, breathe, and think: This app is a great way to check in with yourself, and listen to guided meditations to improve your day. It can teach you how to meditate, provide a list of different kinds of meditations, and track your progress over time. stopbreaththink.org
Whatever method you choose, it’s really about what you want to do. We all have the choice at each moment of the day to really help ourselves. It doesn’t matter where you are from, your experience, or what you have going on in your life. We can always start new at any moment and help reduce our risk for cancer.