HCA Midwest Health - April 10, 2023
Woman reaching out with her left hand and touching her chest with her right hand

Living with, through, and beyond cancer challenges the mind and body. As the mind may be dealing with emotions, the body is going through changes, and both may feel stressed or fatigued.

Your healthcare team aims to provide you the best care while also trying to help you feel the best you can, but knowing how you feel and what you need is essential in empowering yourself to accomplish your goals.

The mind

  • Being conscious of your mind will help you recognize your thoughts and emotions. By starting here, you can shift toward a healthier mindset. Start with assessing your thoughts, by asking yourself: Are you excited and enjoying these feelings?
  • Are you tense and hoping to relax?
  • Do you have a plan for the day, or need to be more organized?

By acknowledging our thoughts and emotions, we can better understand ourselves and take control of what we want Sadness, distress, fear, anxiety, chaos, and other similar emotions are normal when dealing with cancer, and these feelings should be acknowledged and discussed. Talking about these feelings can help release their burden and work toward a healthier mindset to improve overall well-being and quality of life. Positivity cannot increase your lifespan but can improve how you live. 

The body

Being aware of your body can let you know when something is wrong, or things are improving. It may tell you it's hungry, needs to stretch, or are tired. By listening to these signals, you can better care for your body or help communicate your needs to others. 

Pain, tightness, tingling, numbness, and exhaustion may be common physical feelings, and some may require medications or rest. However, stretching or movement may be helpful when dealing with these bodily feelings. If you can be aware of how your body is feeling, then you can take action to help it feel better. 

Mind and body together

The brain-body connection is something that makes us humans unique. We have signals between the body and brain to control our everyday functions, from breathing, digestion, and pain to movement, thinking, and feeling. Some are unconscious, while others we can control. In our day-to-day life, the brain absorbs and processes information that can change your body's responses. By stimulating your brain, you can change what you do or how you feel. 

Mindfulness scan

Scanning your body and mind is a quick way to assess yourself. Ideally, you can do this as you wake up and repeat it throughout the day. Your goal should be to pay attention to what your mind and body are trying to tell you. We often go through our days so quickly or get distracted by other things we don't notice the good or bad these areas are trying to communicate with us. There are many different ways to complete this scan, but finding a quiet place without distraction is best. 

Get started by sitting down and closing your eyes. Take a few deep breaths to get yourself centered.

Start with the mind…

  • What are your thoughts or emotions – acknowledge what comes to you without judgment.
  • Evaluate what you would like to keep or what needs to be changed.

Now to the body…

  • Turn your attention to the top of your head. Do you feel any tension? Any pain? Any exhaustion? Check your posture. What do you notice?
  • Now, continue to mentally scan down your whole body, muscle by muscle, all the way down to your toes. As you go along, pay attention to the areas that gain your attention. Use this list to begin to decide what it is you need. 

Goals based on your scan results

Once through this process, acknowledge if anything stood out to do. For example, are you more tired than normal, do you have any frustration, are you experiencing any tightness in your muscles. Try to be more aware of this as you go through your day or try to do something to change or improve one of the things that came up during your scan. Acknowledging the more negative emotions and feelings that come from the brain and body is okay. You may want to stay with these for a while and relax, but it is important to work or get help to improve your feelings with the goals of positivity and function. Being positive and accomplishing basic daily functions are extremely powerful for quality of life as you live with, through, and beyond cancer. 

How can positivity improve my life and health?

Being happy makes us feel better but can do so much more. Research supports the idea that happiness leads to healthier behaviors and improved well-being. When we feel good, we sleep better, eat healthier, and are more active. It is also linked to improving energy levels, boosting the immune system, reducing pain, and combatting stress. These are all important when living with, through, and beyond cancer and are vital in maintaining physical function and quality of life.

How do function, movement, and exercise improve your life and health?

Being active improves your brain health, helps you manage weight, strengthens bones and muscles, and improves your ability to do everyday activities. People think being active has to be difficult– long exercise sessions, intense or painful movements, lifting heavy weights. Still, it is as simple as getting up and out of your chair and walking down your hallway or squeezing your shoulder blade together to work on posture. Being active has a large number of immediate as well as long-term benefits.

Simple tips to work toward positivity and activity

  1. Journaling after a mindfulness scan may help track your findings and how you feel about them or what you do. This may help you grow your awareness of your mind and body as you go through each day. Your journal is also a great place to track your exercise to keep yourself accountable and track the progress of your goals.
  2. Meditation helps with self-awareness, stress management, and relaxation. You can guide yourself through a quick meditation, or there are great resources to help you. Start similar to your mindfulness scan but focus on something you want – gently bring it back to your breath and the aspect you have chosen when the mind wanders. An excellent resource for following along is The Mindful Movement which provides meditations, podcasts, and videos to help you learn to meditate.
  3. Walking is one of the most functional activities. You can walk for five minutes or an hour, inside or outside, and it is free. It helps with stress, fatigue, sleep, weight management, and many other health benefits. For an added bonus, find a place in nature to walk and enjoy the great outdoors.
  4. Yoga is a great way to relax, meditate, stretch, and be strong. Yoga can sometimes be intimidating because of the different poses and the challenge it may create for balance, but there are options for everyone. Do yoga right from your home for free by using YouTube. You can find videos for chair yoga, beginners, core strength, flexibility, and balance.
  5. Listening to music in itself can help you feel good. Listen to something that makes you happy, brings up good memories, or makes you want to move your body. Dancing is an amazing way to express yourself and your feelings and has even been shown to help with pain.

These are just a few of the many ways to support your mind and body as you live with, through, and beyond cancer. At Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at HCA Midwest Health, our cancer support team is an additional resource to help you accomplish your mindfulness goals.