Meeting work deadlines. Making treatment decisions. Worrying about your latest scan results. When you’re living with metastatic cancer, you have to deal with the garden-variety stressors—and then some.
While you can't fully eliminate stress, you can learn to tame tension levels and find your inner calm. One path: mindfulness meditation. An essential part of Buddhist tradition, the technique focuses on bringing your attention to the present moment—whether you’re folding laundry or chopping onions. Having a heightened awareness of the here and now allows you put aside thoughts of the past and future, and the result is impressive: reduced stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and enhanced immune function.
In fact, researchers at the University of California–San Francisco found that schoolteachers who took an eight-week course in mindfulness training were less anxious and depressed and had a greater ability to face a stressor than those in a control group.
Best of all, mindfulness meditation doesn’t require a big time commitment. You can incorporate it into your daily routine—while you’re walking, showering or just hanging out with family and friends.
Here are five exercises that take five minutes each. Don’t worry if your mind wanders to hospital bills or bone scans—that’s perfectly normal. The trick is to acknowledge these thoughts and then quiet your mind by switching back to the meditation at hand.
Scan your body. Whether it’s before you wake up or before you go to sleep, take a moment to lie in bed with your eyes closed and think intently about each part of your body. Start at your feet, and slowly work your way upward, moving from your toes to your ankles, calves, knees, thighs, pelvic region, lower back, stomach, mid/upper back, chest, shoulders, arms, wrists, fingers, neck and head. Envision the blood flowing through your body. Concentrate on the areas where you hold the most tension, and try to relax them.
Home in on your hello. Be mindful when you greet loved ones. Look at their eyes, note their facial features and observe their body language. Listen and hear what they’re saying, without thinking of your to-do list.
Focus on your feet. Retreat to a quiet spot in your home. Slowly walk back and forth and around in circles. Take special note of your feet—how they make contact with the floor, how one foot lifts before the other touches the ground, how your weight shifts, how the floor creaks with each step.
Mind your morning shower. You can find respite in the shower if you concentrate on what you’re doing right then and there. Use your senses: Listen to the peaceful sound of the water, feel the sensation of the water flowing over you, smell the shampoo and the soap, watch the suds flow into the drain.
Concentrate on brushing your teeth. Even the everyday event of brushing your teeth can be transformed into a mindfulness meditation. Observe how the toothpaste squeezes out of the tube and onto the toothbrush. Focus on the smell and on the feel of the toothbrush on your gums. Really taste the toothpaste and note the coolness of the water as you swish it in your mouth.
These are just a few examples of how you can incorporate mindfulness meditation into your daily routine. Get creative and come up with your own techniques. The more you meditate, the quicker you’ll start enjoying its health benefits.