How meditation can help you cope with a cancer diagnosis

Published: 15 May 2019

This weeks’ blog is about how meditation can help you cope with feelings of stress and anxiety. A cancer diagnosis is a shock for anyone.  Some people feel numb, upset and anxious, while others feel angry, guilty or alone. Most will feel all of these at different times on an exhausting rollercoaster ride of emotions. 

At a time when you need to be kind to yourself and your body, you may find yourself overcome with emotions, unable to sleep properly, unable to eat and unable to face the world.  To help control these feelings, many people turn to meditation to find a mental and physical balance, enabling them to cope with the battle ahead. 

Many people hold misconceptions about meditation, often dismissing it as spiritual mumbo jumbo only practiced by hippies or certain Eastern religions. However, in the past 20 years, there has been a seismic shift in the mainstream perception of meditation and it is now openly practiced by congressmen, parliamentarians, doctors, and celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman, Richard Branson, Paul McCartney and Angelina Jolie.

The benefits of meditation 

Whether you are meditating for your general wellbeing or you have cancer, many people who practice recommend meditating for at least twenty minutes each day to help clear the mind and promote good mental health.  But everyone is different – some people meditate for regular two minutes slots throughout the day whereas others prefer to meditate for hours at a time. When you are first starting out, choose the length of time you are comfortable with and build up from there. 

Here are a few reasons why you should give it a try:

Tried and tested

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. Some of the earliest written records of meditation come from the Hindu traditions dating back to around 1500 BCE.   But it’s not about any particular religion or belief system - meditation is about consciousness and can be practiced by anyone. 

It has no negative side effects and works by simply calming the centers of your brain and can be used in conjunction with your medication. (Of course, always consult with your professional health care provider when undertaking anything new).

Emotional recovery and relaxation

Stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and fear of recurrence can be greatly reduced through meditation. Meditation can also help with pain and difficulty sleeping. Mindfulness meditation works on calming your thoughts and its effects are immediate.

On a practical level, it helps to improve concentration, you become less bothered by little things, you enjoy better overall health and it gives you a deeper understanding of your inner self.

You can also take the mindfulness you gain from meditation practice and apply it to help cope with tests, doctors’ appointments and treatment.

Physical benefits

Researchers in Canada have found evidence to suggest that meditation can alter the cellular activity of cancer survivors. They found that telomeres – the protein caps at the end of our chromosomes that determine how quickly a cell ages – stayed the same length in cancer survivors who meditated over a three-month period. Whereas the telomeres of cancer survivors who didn't shortened. 

There is early evidence that suggests shortened telomeres are associated with cellular aging, but longer telomeres are thought to help protect us from disease. Stress is known to accelerate the shortening process. Meditation reduces stress and therefore may help to preserve a cancer survivor’s telomere length.

No experience necessary and it can be done virtually anywhere and at any time

You just need to be comfortable, and in a location where you can relax. Somewhere quiet and peaceful is best although many experienced meditators can practice anywhere. You can practice in the safety of your own home or with a like-minded group. 

If you are new to meditation you will find there are many different types, styles, techniques and positions.  Check out YouTube – you’ll find some great mindfulness and meditation guided videos to choose from.  Or look out for apps to download. This link from Develop Good Habits suggests a few you might like to try -  15 Best Meditation and Mindfulness Apps.

Getting started

You will learn how to breathe (control rhythm), blank out everything else and concentrate on one thing at a time The mind tries to hold several different thoughts and ideas at once and when you first start to meditate, you’ll realize how busy and cluttered your mind is. But over time you learn how to control your thoughts, which clears the mind and subsequently calms you.

World Meditation Day

Whether you are a novice looking at having a go at meditating or an experienced practitioner, Tuesday 21st is World Meditation Day and people from all around the world are gathering together to take part in group meditation sessions. If you are suffering from anxiety and stress this could be a good time to start. To find out more go to World Meditation Day, where you can register to log-in and join a live worldwide online meditation event. 

Join the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group to find out how other people diagnosed with cancer manage their own emotional well-being or share your experiences of meditation or any other coping mechanisms that you use.

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