When we think about cancer prevention, physical interventions that are known disease preventers, such as diet and exercise, may be the first things to come to mind. However, our mental well-being also plays a major role in cancer prevention and our ability to recover from chronic disease.
Stress can have a major toll on the body and can increase your risk for long-term health issues – such as cancer. We all experience some degrees of stress in our lives, but when stress, anxiety, and depression become chronic, our immune system becomes more vulnerable. The result is increased inflammation, oxidative damage, and the replication of unhealthy cells.
Over the years, biobehavioral oncologists have identified personality traits of highly stressed individuals as relating to the development of cancer. Holding on to toxic emotions such as anger and hate are some common traits associated with this chronic disease.
In his paper, The Cancer Personality: Its Importance in Healing, Dr. Douglas Brodie describes seven characteristics of the cancer-susceptible personality:
- Being highly conscientious, dutiful, responsible, caring, hard-working, and usually above average intelligence.
- Exhibiting a strong tendency toward carrying other people’s burdens and toward taking on extra obligations, often “worrying for others”.
- Having a deep-seated need to make others happy, tending to be “people pleasers”. Having a great need for approval.
- Often having a history of lack of closeness with one or both parents, sometimes later in life, resulting in a lack of closeness with a spouse or others who would normally be close.
- Harboring long-suppressed toxic emotions, such as anger, resentment, and/or hostility. Typically the cancer-susceptible individual internalizes such emotions and has great difficulty expressing them.
- Reacting adversely to stress, often becoming unable to cope adequately with such stress. Usually experiencing an especially damaging event about two years before the onset of detectable cancer. The patient is unable to cope with this traumatic event or series of events, which comes as a “last straw” on top of years of suppressed reaction to stress.
- Showing an inability to resolve deep-seated emotional problems and conflicts, usually arising in childhood, often even being unaware of their presence.
Chronic stress and emotional health can be improved with a number of studied interventions including psychotherapy, diet, exercise, and mindfulness-based techniques. In some studies, mindfulness-based stress reduction used in cancer prevention/treatment was linked to reduced toxicity and stress in the body.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that allows us to become more aware and in control of our being. Originating from Eastern religious traditions, mindfulness-based exercises focus on breathing techniques and soothing mental imagery to promote stress reduction and improve mental well-being. The idea of mindfulness-based techniques is to become more in focus with the present moment, dealing with current thoughts and emotions with acceptance instead of self-criticism and judgment.
Ways to Practice Mindfulness
1. Get Comfortable
You can meditate almost anywhere just as long as you’re comfortable. The first step in mindfulness is to become more relaxed and aware of your body. Choose an area with minimal distractions and close your eyes.
This is when you can do a body scan; starting from your head down to your toes, release tension and begin to physically relax each area of the body. Deep breathing tells your body to stop releasing stress hormones to the brain and helps your mind to stay focused on the present moment.
2. Trust Your Feelings
Suppressing one’s feelings contributes to emotional unease. During meditation, it’s important to learn to accept your feelings and honor them without judgment and to accept thoughts that may surface without self-criticism. Taking the time to process your emotions can help to manage your response to them in the future.
3. Allow Yourself to Just Be
Become completely present in your current experience rather than focus on what might be ahead. Allow yourself to just be without rejecting your experience. This can help to reduce any feelings of anxiety about the future. You cannot control everything that may happen but you can control your response.
Get Help with Mindfulness Practices
A healthy immune system depends on a healthy connection to the mind. Mindfulness-Based Stress reduction can help us reduce stress and reach more mental and emotional fulfillment which can reduce our chances of developing chronic disease down the line.
For more information on how OWM Integrative Wellness helps our patients to incorporate mindfulness into their lives, learn more about our Brain Spa here.