mindfulness and coping with cancer

Could mindfulness help you cope with cancer?

There has been much coverage of the concept of mindfulness and its importance as a remedy for all manner of modern-day ailments. But what about when your entire life has been knocked out of kilter by a breast cancer diagnosis?

In a nutshell, mindfulness involves focusing upon what is occurring in the here and now: on the inside, on what’s running through your head, and what’s taking place around you. Essentially, it’s an attitude – a way of taking time out and zoning in on yourself, in order to put your everyday hassles on hold and make sense of your current thoughts and emotions.

Obviously, when you’re dealing with breast cancer, thinking about yourself, processing your thoughts and trying to divine any changes in your body – as well as wringing as much ‘me time’ out of your day as possible – is a natural reaction. But the point of mindfulness, according to experts, is to remind you not to neglect your mental health while you spend time keeping as physically well as possible. To filter out as many bad sensations and thoughts as possible and remind yourself of the many positive things that are still occurring.

So how easy – or otherwise – is it to step into a mindful attitude? According to experts, there are four steps to take in order to take control of the here and now:

  • Noticing: being able to switch off the autopilot that carries you through the day, and tune in to what changes are occurring both inwardly and outwardly
  • Observing: taking the time to experience and log how things look, feel, smell, and taste
  • Naming: developing the ability to isolate and nail down why certain feelings are cropping up more often than others, and getting to the root of them
  • Accepting: having the ability of know that certain things are happening and being able to work a way around them

What mindfulness isn’t, is fatalistic, or pessimistic, or even passive: it’s a coping tool geared to get people to stop, think, hold back an overwhelming flood of emotions, and cherry-pick the positive ones. For example, one mindfulness technique – the body scan – requires the participant to either lie on their back or sit down, and focus on one thing or action, such as one’s breathing or background noise, and go through the noticing-observing-naming-accepting checklist. The point to all this is to arrive at a level of concentration where you can start regulating and even amending your emotions.

Could mindfulness help breast cancer patients?

You may have noticed by now that mindfulness is nothing new, and it draws heavily on exercises used in yoga and meditation for hundreds of years. But can it really work as part of a toolkit in coping with breast cancer? Seeing as fear and uncertainty can be just as prevalent a symptom of cancer as the physical elements, it certainly won’t do any harm. At a time when it’s vital to be as focused and positive as possible, pursuing and honing a mindfulness regime which suits your lifestyle and attitude could be an essential weapon in your armoury.