A few years ago, I joined a weekly meditation class to learn various ways to calm my anxiety. The experience was great, it was also challenging. Some types of meditation were relaxing, while others put me to sleep. Some involved movement and others were too “new-agey” for my taste. Throughout the classes I learned there are a variety of ways to meditate and practice mindfulness. It also became clear that sitting still with no book to read or internet to surf is no easy task…
What do you mean by mindfulness?
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness practices bring awareness to the present moment and foster a sense of openness. MBSR supports the ability to release control and helps reduce negative self-talk. The purpose of these practices are to see the world just as it is, without judging whether things are “good” or “bad” — they just are — and in this place of non-judgment, it is thought that life may be appreciated more fully.
Mindfulness shows up in different ways for different people: as prayer for some; a quiet hike for others; and for some, sitting on a zafu (meditation cushion) in a Buddhist meditation hall. Mindfulness can be adapted to fit the individual need – making it a very personal experience.
We are busy people – physically and mentally – and this chronic state of “busy” can certainly lead to stress. For cancer patients, survivors and caregivers, these stress levels can increase significantly and may be coupled with depression. For patients and survivors, this may be a result of diagnosis, treatment side effects and lifestyle restrictions.
According to a National Cancer Institute study (published in the American Association of Cancer Research), colorectal cancer survivors often have “less positive outlooks” and poorer quality of life reports as compared with other cancer survivors. Although mental health conditions such as these should be addressed with a psychotherapist or psycho-oncologist, MBSR is an additional method that has been shown to calm that busy-ness, to “quiet the mind” and reduce levels of depression and stress related to a cancer diagnosis.
Mindfulness is not a means of getting somewhere or curing something – rather it’s an avenue to experience all aspects of life more completely.
Mindfulness practices positively affect mood, sleep, fatigue, depression, anxiety and stress among both cancer patients and caregivers. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the University of Massachusetts Medical School have led out on this research and developed the MBSR 8-week program and training at their Center for Mindfulness.
Many studies conducted around the world show positive results for cancer patients and survivors who practice mindfulness, and the research continues to grow. The University of California, San Francisco is about to launch an 8-week study to see how an audio-based mindfulness intervention could reduce distress and improve quality of life among patients with advanced colorectal cancer and their caregivers.
Meditation can help us embrace our worries, our fear, our anger; and that is very healing. -Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindfulness interventions are low risk. When beginning a mindfulness practice, some may experience a slight increase in anxiety – most likely due to the fact that we rarely sit still without the TV, radio or Internet to occupy our minds.
Watching thoughts without judgment, and reflecting on our own life with openness and acceptance are practices that take time to develop, however, mindfulness is a practice that has the potential to lead to improved quality of life. The benefits could be of huge benefit to cancer patients, survivors, family members and caregivers who are all seeking greater peace of mind.
Will a mindfulness practice interfere with my personal religious beliefs? Nope. Mindfulness practices can be delivered in a way that is non-religious.
How to begin, you ask?
Training the mind through sitting quietly and observing thoughts non-judgmentally sounds simple, right?
The first time a person tries a mindfulness practice, they may be bothered by a busy mind – vacillating between various worries, concerns and random thoughts – possibly heightened for an individual undergoing cancer treatment or survivorship. This battle to quiet the mind may last for months of practice, but amazingly, the benefits still shine just after a few days of practice.
To get started:
- Set your timer for 3 minutes. Sit comfortably. Close your eyes. Take deep, slow breaths, and thank yourself for taking a break from your busy day.
- Grab your iPhone and download an app – Headspace is a great option for beginners. Guided meditations talk you through mindfulness in just 10-minutes every day.
- Find local resources in your community offering MBS
MBSR Resources & Sources
- Mindfulness Meditation Intervention for Colorectal Cancer Patients and Caregivers. (Sponsor: University of California, San Francisco.)
Smith JE1, Richardson J, Hoffman C, Pilkington K. (2006). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction as supportive therapy in cancer care: systematic review. Journal of Advanced Nursing. (5):618.
Codie R Rouleau1 Sheila N Garland2 Linda E Carlson3. (2015) The impact of mindfulness-based interventions on symptom burden, positive psychological outcomes, and biomarkers in cancer patients. Cancer Management and Research. (7) 121–131
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