Stress is the body’s physical, emotional, and psychological response to any demand. Unfortunately, it’s a part of daily life, especially for cancer patients and caregivers.
But if you don’t actively manage your stress, it can become chronic and adversely affect your health and cancer treatment.
Fortunately, relaxation techniques can help you cope with everyday stress. Meditation is one basic technique that is easy to learn and easy to do.
Meditation can help cope with stress
Meditation is the practice of focusing on what’s going on in the present moment with no judgment and lots of acceptance. It frees us from stress of the past and future by bringing the present moment into focus. When we focus on the present, we are better able to identify what we are feeling, sensing and thinking.
Some people think that meditation requires sitting on a mat in a completely quiet room with absolutely no thoughts running through your head. For some people, that is possible. But for the majority of us, that just isn’t realistic. That’s OK because:
- You don’t need to be on a mat. You can be anywhere.
- You don’t need complete silence -- although the fewer distractions, the better.
- Thoughts are always going to be running through your head. Acknowledge them, tell them you will come back to them later, and refocus on your breath and body. Don’t let it discourage you.
As you practice focusing on the present, your sense of awareness both of yourself and of the world around you will also grow. Among other benefits, people who practice medication report that they become more aware of small everyday miracles and the beauty of life.
How to meditate
If you’re interested in trying meditation, follow these five steps.
- Breathe. Simply remembering to breathe consciously in the moment. Take some full, deep breaths. Completely fill your lungs, expand your abdomen, let it out and then do it all again. This is known as belly breathing, and it can help bring your heart rate down to a resting rate.
- Relax. Consciously relax every single muscle in your body, one by one. Your deep belly breathing will support this process. Conscious relaxation helps to break up tightness and resistance in the body and mind.
- Feel. Focus inward, on your body, on all of the sensations you are feeling. Ask yourself, “Where in my body is the feeling or sensation coming from? What does the sensation feel like? Are there any patterns that I recognize?”
- Observe. This is the part where you step outside of yourself and just stand at the center of experience. You just observe without any judgment of what you see or feel. As you become absorbed in being the observer, you allow yourself the freedom to observe your experience from the outside.
- Allow. Now you take everything you have done, and let go. Let go of control and allow life to happen. Jump into the river of life, and let it carry you where you need to go.
No matter what relaxation technique you use, all of them require practice. Some of these concepts are new and take time to absorb, so be patient with yourself.
Make time for meditation every day
Most stress experts recommend setting aside at least 10 to 20 minutes a day for relaxation. If that sounds daunting, remember that you can spread your 10-20 minutes of meditation throughout the day and incorporate them into your daily schedule. Practice:
- On the bus during your commute
- At your desk while eating lunch
- While waiting in the clinic
Next time you’re confronted with a difficult emotional moment, give meditation a try. You’ll be glad that you did.
Get help at MD Anderson
If you are a patient at MD Anderson, our Social Work Counselors can introduce you to progressive relaxation techniques, including meditation. We also offer counseling and support groups at no cost to patients and caregivers.
For more information on relaxation, counseling, or support groups, contact the Department of Social Work at 713-792-6195, or tell your nurse or doctor that you would like speak with a Social Work Counselor.