While researchers have not determined whether stress is directly linked to the development of colon cancer, it’s pretty clear that getting diagnosed can cause stress, and anxiety can continue through treatment and beyond. But don’t let being afraid of being afraid stop you in your tracks. Practicing relaxation techniques, exercising and connecting with others helps you navigate through the sometimes fearsome waters of cancer treatment — and can also have surprising health benefits.
Use Mind and Body Together
Experts counsel that you should put your mind to work to help you get through the scary parts — and, let’s face it, there are plenty of scary parts to cancer. It’s not just about putting on a Pollyannaish attitude, though: Relaxation techniques — structured methods for calming your mind and body’s responses to stress — can help you deal with the initial news, calm you during treatment, lessen treatment’s side effects and give you a sense of control over your own healing power.
Deep breathing: When you’re nervous, your breath tends to get shallower — and shallow breathing can make you more anxious in return, because your body doesn’t get as much oxygen. Taking slow, deep breaths can calm your heart and your emotions. Feel your heart racing while in the waiting area of your doctor’s office? Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose, exhale through your mouth while thinking of the number one. Do it again with the number two on the exhale, and repeat until you get to five.
Meditation: Meditation helps you quiet your mind and focus your attention, and it can also boost your immune system. Among the many types, mindful meditation has been most studied in cancer patients. One study found that after seven weeks of meditation, patients had less stress and mood disturbance than those who didn’t meditate.
Sit in a quiet room and focus on the in and out of your breath. If your attention wanders, don’t let that upset you. Just bring the focus back to your breath. If you can’t stop your mind from chattering, focus on a word or phrase (like “I am healing” or “I am calm”).
Hypnotherapy and guided imagery: These are both ways to help you use your imagination, as well as your senses, to help you go into a trancelike state, which will help take your mind off of your tests and treatment and onto something more pleasant. This is an especially good technique to use while you’re going through chemo or radiation.
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