MINDFULNESS AND CANCER

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow can mindfulness help people affected by cancer (including family, friends and carers)?

You might have heard of ‘Mindfulness’.  A lot is talked and written about its usefulness.  But like with so many things, it can feel like a daunting task and yet another thing to invest a lot of energy in, before it can be of any use. Well, it is not necessarily so.  Let me explain a bit more.

Mindfulness is an attitude, a way of paying attention to yourself and finding a way of regulating your thoughts and emotions.  It is based on 4 simple steps, which are all focused on what is happening now (in the moment): notice, observe, name, accept.

With this attitude you can steady yourself, if you feel overwhelmed; focus on what matters most at any given point in time; feel less stressed and anxious and more balanced and relaxed.  I liken it to a thermostat or a flood barrier.

Try these two exercises to see what I mean.

1. You in the world.  
Next time you go for a walk, pay attention to what is going on inside and outside of you.  What noises do you hear?  What colours and objects can you see?  What can you smell?  What are you thinking about?  How are you feeling?  No doubt, you will find that a lot is going on.  Your senses are busy and it may be difficult to focus on one thing, even if you tried.

2. Body scan exercise.
This can be done lying down on your back or sitting.  Focus on one thing, eg your breath. Pay attention to how it travels in and out of your body. Feel the sensation in your nose, your chest and tummy. What about the rest of your body, your toes up the crown of your head? Any tension?  What about your mind?  Any thoughts? Do they re-occur, are they joyful or worrying you? As you notice your concentration grow take in what is happening around you –  any noises or smells? Just notice and observe. Take your time to connect with what is happening inside and outside of yourself in that moment.

When you are familiar with paying attention and getting to know yourself, then the next step is to accept.  That does not mean being passive.  It means accepting reality for what it is, not right or wrong, good or bad.  Accept what you notice, observe it, name it and do not judge it.

Now you are in a good place to start regulating your thoughts and emotions.  With the concentration you have achieved you will feel calm and energised. Your anxiety and stress levels will drop and you can focus better.

You can tailor the following example to a situation, which fits in best with your own cancer circumstances.   For example:

Your treatment has ended. You carry a lot of emotions about what has happened and what may lie ahead:  fear, anger, sorrow, depression, exhaustion, loss of trust, relational difficulties are not uncommon.  You may have aches and pains.  Is the cancer still there?  Will it come back? Will I have to go through all of this again?  Will I cope?  When will I die?

Create regular moments in your day for the body scan exercise.  Notice what is happening in your body, mind and heart.  Observe it, there is no rush.  Give it a name (eg I feel tense in my shoulders, the area where I had the tumour hurts, I am frightened and do not know what to do, this is not fair, I feel alone and exhausted).  Now, try and accept what you have found.  This does not mean you need to like it and put up with it. No!  You are connecting with yourself; to be frightened is normal, you do not need to fear it; you are learning to understand yourself.  You will start to feel less anxious and more focused.  You will be in a better position to decide what to do next.

Article first published by Huffington Post, 4th February 2014.

 

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