Using Mindfulness to Cope with Cancer
Worry about the future. Being angry at your body. Feeling physically and mentally overwhelmed. Some of the most difficult parts of the cancer journey can be eased by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for coping with cancer and a wide body of research is showing significant benefits for cancer patients.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment without judgement. Many parts of the cancer journey are outside of your control. Since you can’t change the situation, practicing mindfulness allows you to focus on something you can control – what you pay attention to and how you choose to respond to your experiences. Mindfulness has many benefits for coping with cancer. Not only can it improve quality of life and overall well-being, but it can also help with managing cancer-related symptoms and side effects.
Being mindful could help you:
- Relax and react less to stress
- Focus your attention and improve decision making
- Manage negative thoughts
- Feel more positive and at peace
- Improve your sleep and reduce fatigue
- Lower symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and pain
- Lower your blood pressure
- Improve immune function
Our brain is like a muscle that we need to train. To become more mindful, we need to practice! The best approach is to use consistency and kindness. Imagine you are training a cute little puppy. The puppy will wander off on its own and doesn’t know any better (that’s just how puppies are!). Our brain is no different. There are many simple ways to practice mindfulness. I encourage you to explore the mindfulness exercises below. As you do the exercises, try not to judge your experience as good or bad.
Body Scan Meditation
Lie on your back with your legs extended and arms at your sides, palms facing up. Focus your attention slowly and deliberately on each part of your body, in order from toe to head or head to toe. Be aware of any sensations, emotions, or thoughts associated with each part of your body.
Sit comfortably with your back straight, feet flat on the floor, and hands in your lap. Breathing through your nose, focus on your breath moving in and out of your body. If physical sensations or thoughts interrupt your meditation, note the experience, and then return your focus to your breath.
Find a quiet place 10-15 feet in length and begin to walk slowly. Focus on the experience of walking, being aware of the sensations in your muscles and the feeling of your body moving and shifting weight. When you reach the end of your path, turn, and continue walking, maintaining awareness.
Practicing Mindfulness in Everyday Life
Try to experience your environment with all your senses like touch, sound, sight, smell, and taste. For example, when you eat a favorite food, take the time to smell, taste, and truly enjoy it.
Are you a Cancer Patient at Mayo Clinic?
Learn more by taking the FREE class Mindfulness: Being Present with Cancer. Virtual and in-person options are available. Ask for a referral from your Mayo Clinic provider.
- Mindfulness: Living in the Moment
- Mindful Movements: Gentle Yoga Videos
- Gentle Movements Tai Chi Qigong Videos
- Dr. Benzo: Mindfulness Videos