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One of your most powerful tools for managing breast cancer treatment and side effects sits squarely atop your shoulders. Using certain mental and physical techniques, you can learn to harness your thoughts and perceptions to change the way your body reacts to internal and external signals. This is called mind-body medicine.
Mind-body medicine is well suited to people going through cancer: Most mind-body exercises are safe and effective; they don’t interact with other medications or upset your stomach; you can practice on your schedule; and you can feel some of the changes, like relaxation, immediately. Research at the Cleveland Clinic has shown that mind-body techniques, like guided imagery, and other integrative-medicine practices can help patients reduce their anxiety before surgery, deal with postoperative pain and speed recovery. Other research proves mind-body techniques can decrease the side effects of chemotherapy or discomfort from radiation, strengthen the immune system, improve sleep, enhance our ability to self-heal, and help overcome fear, stress and depression. As with most complementary medicine, mind-body exercises should not be used as your primary method of treating breast cancer and should not be used to replace standard therapy.
Common Mind-Body Therapies
While there are dozens of mind-body techniques (art therapy, biofeedback, labyrinth walking and Reiki, to name a few), the most well-documented for cancer care include these:
Imagery (or visualization)
How it's done: Imagery involves using your imagination to create a sensory experience of sights, sounds, feelings or taste that is relaxing.
Benefits: Imagery can help relieve stress, pain and depression; decrease side effects of chemotherapy like nausea; decrease blood pressure; improve sleep; boost immune function; shorten hospital stays; and speed healing.
Hypnotherapy (hypnosis therapy)
How it's done: Hypnotherapy uses guided relaxation to arrive at a state of deep, attentive, focused concentration, sometimes called a trance, that can make it easier for you to relax and to control your body and mind.
Benefits: Hypnotherapy can enable you to block an awareness of sensations like pain, discomfort, nausea and fatigue; reduce fear and anxiety; create a sense of calm; speed recovery; and promote healing.
How it's done: Meditation helps you focus on the present moment and achieve a state of relaxation and calm. Mindfulness is one type of meditation.
Benefits: Meditation can reduce anxiety, nausea and fatigue from chemotherapy; relieve stress; lower blood pressure; and boost immune function.
Spirituality and religion
How it's done: Practices vary.
Benefits: Though we don’t know the exact mechanics, spiritual and religious beliefs seem to create a sense of connectedness, a positive attitude and a calm, relaxed state that promote healing and encourage health. For many, religion and spirituality provide a meaning to life that can help them to deal with cancer and accept death.