When a cancer diagnosis is made, many different feelings arise, such as sadness, fear, anger, helplessness, or injustice. When the disease is known, most people are accompanied by their family, friends and closest associates, either sooner or later.

However, do they really show what they feel when they talk to them? Do they allow themselves to be invaded by emotion when it knocks on their door? The answer in most cases is 'no'.

While it is true that in some people they let their emotions flow, whether they are sadness, anger or injustice, in most cases people make futile efforts to show themselves well to others. In fact, on many occasions they may experience what is known as Experiential Avoidance Disorder , manifested by the avoidance of everything related to the disease. This avoidance reflects a lack of acceptance of the illness.

All these efforts to put aside the discomfort are in vain, the person ends up seeing himself in a spiral of thoughts that are avoided with daily activities and that, beyond promoting a high mood, the intensity of the discomfort increases. In this way, both the person’s well-being and quality of life are impaired.

What is Mindfulness and how does it help cancer patients?

Psychology works on these aspects through different techniques and therapies. In recent years, Mindfulness has proved to be effective in the work of some relevant problems during cancer:

  • Facilitates pain modulation
  • Improves sleep quality
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Improves personal satisfaction
  • Improves quality of life

Mindfulness is a practice that comes from Tibetan Buddhist meditation and, at present, is part of the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Its objective is to be aware of every physical and psychological sensation that our body sends us. However, the purpose of Mindfulness is not to eliminate pain or the thoughts or emotions that create discomfort in us, but to hear what they have to say without judging them, giving them the attention they need.

This is because our body speaks to us constantly, every pain, thought, emotion or grief we have is a message from our body. When day after day we try not to hear it, it haunts us when we least expect it and with a greater intensity, since we are not listening to what it has to say to us. Mindfulness facilitates the acceptance, understanding and regulation of such emotions, thoughts or physical sensations.

Basic pillars of this therapeutic philosophy

There are several types of mindfulness and many activities to practice full awareness, but it should be noted that the most important thing is the attitude taken when performing these exercises .

Shapiro and Carlson identified seven factors to consider for the practice:

  • Do not judge : become aware of all experiences, both internal and external, without limiting them.
  • Be patient : be open to discover what our body has to show us without the need to pressure it.
  • To have confidence : to trust the information given to us by our senses without the intention of harming us.
  • Do not fight : do not try to avoid emotions, thoughts or physical sensations.
  • Let go : all thoughts and emotions come and go. Sometimes we have the need to remain in a state of well-being. However, Mindfulness aims to pay attention to each moment, being fully aware of what is happening, as well as the changes that are taking place.
  • Beginner’s mentality : if we want to do the Mindfulness exercises properly, we must place ourselves in an inexperienced position, similar to that of a baby. Babies discover their world little by little, look and listen to it attentively, feel it, suck it and even smell it. Mindfulness aims to put you in a similar position, where your inexperience allows you to perceive with all your senses every experience before categorizing it.

Bibliographic references:

  • Collete, N. (2011). Art Therapy and Cancer. Psycho-oncology,8(1), 81-99.
  • Hart, S.L., Hoyt, M.A., Diefenbach, M., Anderson, D.R., Kilbourn, K.M., Craft, L.L., … and Stanton, A.L. (2012). Meta-analysis of efficacy of interventions for elevated depressive 36
  • symptoms in adults diagnosed with cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 104(13), 990-1004.
  • Hopko, D.R., Clark, C.G., Cannity, K., and Bell, J.L. (2015). Pretreatment Depression Severity in Breast Cancer Patients and Its Relation to Treatment Response to Behavior Therapy. Health Psychology.35(1), 10-18.
  • Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness based interventions in context: past, present and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 144-156.
  • Shapiro, S. L., Bootzin, R. R., Figuerdo, A. J., Lopez, A. M. and Schwartz, G. E. (2003). The efficacy of mindfulness-based stress reduction in the treatment of sleep disturbance in women with breast cancer: an exploratory study. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 54(1), 85-91.
  • Shapiro, S. L., and Carlson, L. E. (2009). The art of science of Mindfulness. Washington D.C: American Psychological Association.