Breast Cancer

Posted on in Healthy Living by Mike Dow

Mental Tips to Cultivate Healing Calm

Breast cancer affects just about every woman in one way or another. For some it’s just a passing worry about family history, age, or risk factors. For others it’s their mom’s fight. For the woman who has just been diagnosed it can be downright scary. It’s so important to train the brain as we treat the body — and yes, there are antidotes to the psychological impacts of breast cancer.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to fall prey to pessimistic thinking when the word cancer floats into the landscape of your mind. This pessimistic thinking tends to conjure doom-and-gloom, worst-case-scenarios with catastrophic outcomes. More unfortunately this stressful way of thinking isn’t just anxiety provoking but in fact may actually act like fertilizer spreading cancerous cells throughout the body—six times faster than they would normally, according to a recent animal study that made international headlines.

I realize this information about stress may only be adding to your stress—but you can reverse the negative cycle. Try this three-step visualization, which you can do anytime: First, close your eyes and make your exhales longer than your inhales for five breaths. Then imagine the next 10 breaths are taking you into a deeper and deeper state of relaxation. Finally, on the next 25 breaths, visualize that you are inhaling peace and serenity and exhaling stress and negativity.

Here’s another meditation to help quell future-oriented catastrophic thinking: Instead of focusing on what’s maybe going to happen tomorrow with your mom or at your own follow-up appointment, try to focus simply on what is happening right now. Take the next few minutes to do this guided practice. After you memorize it you can practice with your eyes closed.

running woman

» Imagine you’re sitting next to a stream and that stream represents your thoughts and feelings. You can see all your pessimistic, worst-case-scenario thoughts. But look upstream! See that silly thought floating toward you? Now look upstream again! See that other thought about that errand you forgot to do today?

» Just let all these thoughts float away, whether they’re positive, negative, or neutral, as if you were calmly watching a stream. The thoughts and feelings just gently float, just like water flowing in a stream. Do this for a few moments or a few minutes if you’d like.

» You may notice something else that’s interesting here that happens for most people. At some point you may notice a care-free ease around these thoughts. When that happens, whether right away or after a few moments, you’ll likely become more relaxed.

» Now can you more easily notice the difference between you and your thoughts? You’re so much more than just your thoughts, aren’t you?

» Knowing that you’re more than just your thoughts can help you to feel more easy, comfortable, and calm. You’re a spiritual being. Know that. Feel that.

» Now just reflect on something else as you sit watching this beautiful stream: If your stream is flowing, it means you’re alive.

» Do you know how many miracles it takes for you to be alive? Even Albert Einstein said there are two ways to live—as though nothing is a miracle—or as though everything is a miracle. Choose the latter and know that to be breathing, to be thinking, to be feeling is a miracle in and of itself. You are already a miracle. I wonder what incredible things you’ll do with this precious gift.

» The fact that you are sensing these thoughts and feelings in your river means that there’s so much more right with you than what is wrong. The more you recognize your own aliveness — in the moment — the more you’re giving your precious body its own ability to heal. You are actually harnessing the profound power of your own mind.

Use this meditation whenever you need to stay grounded in the here and now. The focus on what’s right with you is a great antidote that can help banish pessimistic thinking. This mindful approach trains your brain and can actually boost your immune system — and that’s something to feel positive about.

Mike Dow, Psy.D., Ph.D., is a New York Times bestselling author whose recent book, Chicken Soup for the Soul’s Think, Act & Be Happy: How to Use Chicken Soup for the Soul Stories to Train Your Brain to Be Your Own Therapist, details practical tools for alleviating cancer anxiety. Inspired by his brother, who suffered a massive stroke when he was just 10 years old, Dr. Dow has made it his personal mission to help people heal their brains. He will headline the Granlibakken Wellness Weekend in North Lake Tahoe on November 9-11 with a talk titled “Heal Your Drained Brain.”

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