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Manage Your Stress with Meditation

by Alejandro Chaoul, PhD, and Kira Taniguchi, MA

Inspiration image

These days, mindfulness is in. The hot topic even made the cover of Time magazine’s February 3, 2014, issue, and since then, more and more experts have been weighing in on the purported benefits of this practice.

What exactly is mindfulness? How does it work? More specifically, how can mindfulness benefit people with cancer and their caregivers when used as a complementary therapy?

To start, mindfulness, an aspect of meditation, is the ability to bring your awareness to the present moment with an attitude of openness and curiosity. Although various meditation methods exist, most share features of mindful­ness, including focusing attention, regulating breathing, and managing thoughts and feelings.

The goal of meditation is to help bring balance to your body and, ultimately, to your life as a whole.

Author of Article photo

Dr. Alejandro Chaoul

Anxiety and stress are common among people with cancer and their caregivers. These feelings can distract you from the present and, if left un­managed, can speed the aging process, increasing your risk for heart disease, sleeping difficulties, digestive problems, and even depression.

While it’s not always possible to control stressful events or situations, it is possible to learn how to control your reactions to them. That’s where mind­fulness comes in, to help you manage your hard-wired fight-or-flight response to stressful stimuli.

Research has shown that meditation can lower cortisol levels, decrease blood pressure, bring balance to the immune system, and even modify gene expres­sion, leading to decreased inflammation. For people with cancer, in particular, meditation may help decrease anxiety and negative emotions, improve sleep, improve memory and cognitive function, increase spiritual awareness and sense of well-being, regulate blood pressure, and relax the body. The goal of all mind-body practices, including meditation, is to help bring balance to your body and, ultimately, to your life as a whole.

Author of Article photo

Kira Taniguchi

Getting started is easy. When you’re feeling stressed out, try one of the fol­lowing mindful meditation techniques.
Stop what you’re doing, and take a break. Focus on your breathing for a few minutes.
Stretch your arms upward. As you lengthen your back, breathe deeply through your nose into your belly and back out through your nose. Lower your arms, place them on your lap, and take a few deep, long, calm breaths.
As you breathe normally, imagine your breath as a light that nurtures you. When you breathe in, inhale nurturing qualities – feelings of joy, love, calm, connection to others. Each time you breathe out, exhale tensions – pain, fear, anxiety, stress. Repeat until you start to feel calm.
When you’re in the car and pull up to a stoplight, take the opportunity to connect to yourself; ignore your phone, turn off the radio, and pause to breathe in peace and release your anxious thoughts.
Whenever you wash your hands, use this time to wash your mind as well. As you focus on lathering and rinsing the soap off your hands, take slow breaths and imagine that you are also cleansing your mind.

Think of these techniques as “medi­tation pills.” You can carry them with you wherever you go and have a “dose” anytime you need help finding a sense of calm and focusing on the present.

Some hospitals offer meditation classes for survivors and caregivers. If you’re interested in learning more ways to find balance, ask a member of your healthcare team if your treatment facility offers meditation classes and, if so, how you can take advantage of this resource.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Dr. Alejandro Chaoul is an assistant professor and director of education for the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, where he conducts research using mind-body techniques and holds group and individual meditation classes for cancer survivors and their care­givers. Kira Taniguchi is coordinator of department publications at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Visit for free, downloadable video and audio resources related to meditation and other integrative therapies.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2015.