Developing a Mindfulness and Guided Relaxation Routine for Cancer Patients
It’s normal for cancer patients to experience stress and anxiety over the uncertainty and numerous life changes associated with treatment. But dangerously, this stress—which can manifest in heart palpitations, nausea, dizziness, insomnia, and other symptoms—can prevent the body from healing as well as it should.
However, a simple practice can help combat the stress associated with cancer treatment: mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindful magazine defines mindfulness as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” In other words, we all know how to be aware of ourselves and the world around us—but through a daily mindfulness routine, we can increase this innate ability and, in doing so, reduce stress and gain insight and awareness into both ourselves and others.
More than 3,000 scientific studies have been conducted on the physical benefits of meditation, and research has shown that just eight weeks of mindfulness meditation may elevate the brain’s levels of serum serotonin, improving mood, digestion, sleep, and more. Mindfulness meditation for cancer patients, in particular, has been linked to cellular health.
How to Practice Mindfulness
Guided meditation for cancer patients is one of the more commonly recommended relaxation techniques for cancer patients because it’s easy, convenient, and inexpensive: It requires no special equipment, and it can be done anywhere and anytime. It’s also easy to create your own routine, thanks to numerous resources such as mindfulness and guided meditation apps, websites, and videos. Routines might be seated, lying down, or walking, and they might have specific goals like joy, relaxation, self-examination, and more.
Recently, Dr. Linda Carlson, the Director of Research at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, shared a mindfulness exercise with Mindful that she teaches to her patients. This breathing exercise is aimed at combating insomnia—which affects up to 80 percent of cancer patients, according to the National Cancer Institute—and is done in bed right before going to sleep:
- Lying on your back, breathe in for a count of 4 and exhale for 8. Do this 8 times.
- On your left side, breathe in for 4 and exhale for 8. Do this 16 times.
- On your right side, breathe in for 4 and exhale for 8. Do this 32 times.
By extending the exhale, this exercise shifts the body from the “fight-flight” response to the “rest-and-digest” response—and reportedly, many people fall asleep before they finish!
Many cancer treatment centers offer relaxation, mindfulness, and meditation programs, so talk with your health care team about adding these practices to your treatment plan.