Research in the area of psychoneuroimmunology
(PNI) investigates the link between the mind and the body – how thoughts, feelings and attitudes positively or negatively affect illness or health. The mind and body work together in our overall health and recovery from illness. The way you react to stressful situations is relevant to your overall well-being, both during and after treatment for cancer.
Mind-Body Techniques to Reduce Stress and Enhance the Immune System
There are many ways to actively cope with cancer that can improve your quality of life and may also enhance your immune function.
Breathing and Relaxation
- Managing stress through relaxation, meditation, imagery, physical activity or other stress reduction methods
- Problem-solving strategies – especially with difficult treatment decisions
- Managing the side effects of treatment – especially fatigue and pain
- Managing depression to ensure that it is treated
- Mind-body therapies
The foundation of good health relies on correct breathing to supply oxygen to the entire body. Breathing exercises can help you deal with some of the stress and distress of cancer by helping you to relax, and focus on what makes you feel strong and healthy.
Guided imagery is a simple, effective tool for transforming emotional states of mind. The feelings you experience are governed by the thoughts and images on which you focus; think of something positive, and your emotions will be led in that direction.
When you recall a positive life event, you can experience the same good feelings you experienced at the time.
Being diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening disease often forces people to take a reflective look at their life. It may seem unlikely when you’re first diagnosed, but the crisis of cancer can actually help you gain insight into your beliefs and experiences and promote personal growth.
Each of us holds beliefs about life, its meaning, and value, whether or not we participate in a religious tradition. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, you may find comfort in your spiritual beliefs, or you may question your current understanding about why cancer occurs. Families sometimes feel distressed by the idea that the illness might be a punishment for some past sin or lack of faith.
People with cancer who have a religious affiliation may wish to meet with a representative of their faith to discuss the difficult questions that arise, and be reassured that having doubts and being angry are normal responses to having cancer. Members of religious and spiritual communities also may provide practical help, such as assistance with transportation, meals, and visitation services.
Tapping into your spirituality – in whatever way is comfortable for you – can help give you a sense of life’s meaning beyond yourself, improve your quality of life, ease your distress, and strengthen your spirit. If prayer has helped you deal with other troubles, it may be comforting now and help you feel less alone.
Some other activities that can help are:
- Reading spiritual writings
- Attending religious services
- Helping others
- Doing yoga or other restorative exercises
- Surrounding yourself with nature
- Listening to music
- Spending time with loved ones