Mindfulness practices are a real bargain for cancer survivors - If you spend just a few minutes of your day in meditation or yoga, you’ll glean multiple physical and mental health benefits. I encourage you to read this post to gain an understanding of how a regular mindfulness practice can make you feel great after cancer.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an intentional state of mind that helps you discern the difference between blindly reacting vs. noticing and responding in an aware state.
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not be reactive or overwhelmed by our environment or experiences. It’s an awareness that arises through paying attention non- judgmentally, on purpose, in the present moment.
When you become aware of the present moment, you gain access to resources you may not have realized were with you all along. A stillness at your core, an awareness of what you fundamentally need and what you do not. It’s something inside you, all the time. You may not be able to change your situation through mindfulness, but you can change how you respond to it.
Get Better Sleep
Insomnia is experienced by up to 60% of cancer survivors. Mindfulness practices such as meditation and mind/body practices like Tai Chi and yoga show promise in helping cancer survivors get a restful night’s sleep.
Sleep quantity and quality have a huge impact on a cancer survivor’s ability to think clearly and function day-to-day. Insomnia can make coping with life after cancer more difficult, so getting good nighttime rest is more important than ever.
How does mindfulness work to improve sleep?
Meditation and similar techniques evoke the relaxation response, a deep physiological shift in the body that’s the opposite of the stress response. The relaxation response can help ease many stress-related ailments, including depression, pain, and high blood pressure. For many people, sleep disorders are closely tied to stress.
Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on your breathing and bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future. It helps you break the train of your everyday thoughts to evoke the relaxation response.
Practicing mindfulness daily for twenty minutes is ideal. A regular, daily practice makes it easier to evoke the relaxation response at night when you can’t sleep. In fact, the relaxation response is so relaxing, your daytime practice should be done sitting up or moving (as in yoga or tai chi) to avoid getting too sleepy when you need to be wakeful.
Learning to be mindful can have positive impact in areas of your wellness that may be surprising, and that’s certainly the case with weight loss.
Mindful eating is a technique that helps you gain control over your eating habits. It’s shown to cause weight loss, reduce binge eating and help you feel better overall. Mindful eating uses mindfulness to bring a state of full attention to your experiences, cravings, and physical cues when eating.
Mindful eating involves:
Eating slowly and without distraction.
Listening to physical hunger cues and eating only until you're full.
Understanding the different between real hunger and non-hunger eating triggers.
Engaging your senses by noticing colors, smells, sounds, textures and tastes.
Learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food.
Eating to maintain overall health and well-being.
Noticing the effects food has on your feelings and figure.
Appreciating your food.
These things allow you to replace automatic thoughts and reactions with more conscious, healthier eating responses and lead to a sense of improved overall well being.
Cancer survivors commonly experience anxiety during and after treatment. Anxiety occurs when we have too much stress all at once. This high level of stress triggers your brain to be over-alert and ever-vigilant. When the stress subsides, your brain can’t break it’s bad stress habit right away.
So your brain steams forward and continues to over react, forcing automatic, negative thoughts to repeat in your head even though the initial stress trigger may be long gone. The constant negative automatic thinking can detrimentally effect your well being and ability to function in your life.
Mindfulness helps anxiety by putting space between your rapid-fire, automatic negative thoughts and allows you to recognize them simply as thoughts. This breeds a feeling of control over those thoughts and ultimately your anxiety softens.
Clear The Brain Fog
Cancer-related cognitive impairment, sometimes referred to as chemo brain or brain fog, is reported by 35 percent of cancer survivors who have completed treatment. It can disrupt social relationships, your ability to function in the workplace, self-confidence, and quality of life. Cognitive deficits can persist for years following cancer treatment.
Mindfulness meditation practices enable cancer survivors to better manage cancer-related cognitive impairment. Mindfulness helps improve your ability to think clearly by honing the skills of focused attention and non-reactive coping with thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. Mindfulness techniques effective for brain fog include a variety of meditation and yoga practices.
In a 2015 study of the effect of mindfulness on chemo brain cancer survivors, the study subjects reported significant improvement in the ability to pay attention and better performance in thinking tasks compared with subjects who did not practice mindfulness.
Fatigue after cancer is the most common symptom reported by cancer survivors. It’s caused by many things including the direct effects of treatment and insomnia, brain fog, stress, inflammation, poor physical fitness, and poor nutrition.
Did you notice something there?
A number of those causes we’ve already discussed here in this post - insomnia, brain fog, and stress/anxiety - because they respond well to a mindfulness practice!
So, mindfulness fixes many causes of fatigue which in turn helps the fatigue itself.
You just can’t lose with a mindfulness practice.
This is how you can start a mindfulness practice today:
Step 1: Choose a calming focus.
Good examples are your breath, a sound, a short prayer, a positive word, or a phrase. If you choose a sound, repeat it aloud or silently as you inhale or exhale.
Step 2: Let go and relax.
Don’t worry about how you’re doing. When you notice your mind has wandered, simply take a deep breath or say to yourself “thinking, thinking” and gently return your attention to your chosen focus.
Step 3: Do this for 20 minutes daily.
A regular practice will keep taking care of you! If you try it, let me know how it goes for you in the comments below.
Take care, Survivor, and stay mindful.
If you’re interested in going deeper with Brio Survivor Wellness, download Brio’s FREE Morning Checklist. It includes 7 easy things cancer survivors can do each morning to give you more energy in your day, starting right now! Click the button below to download the checklist.