Mental Well-Being and Cancer
Your psychological well-being is very important in terms of cancer recovery. If you are depressed and/or stressed the cell’s respiration becomes inadequate and the chances of recovery decrease. It can therefore be worthwhile to invest heavily and selfishly in your own psychological well-being, to strive for a tranquil soul and to – in spite of everything – try to be at peace with life.
There are no grounds for a claim that a psychological trauma could be the sole cause of cancer, writes David Servan-Schreiber in his book “Anticancer: A New Way Of Life”. But psychological conditions can “fundamentally affect the earth where the seed develops”, he says. Just as diet, exercise and the quality of the air and water do.
Many cancer patients remember a particularly stressful period, a loss or a traumatic experience during the months and years leading up to the cancer diagnosis. Servan-Schreiber says that these mostly involve setbacks that elicit strong feelings of powerlessness and complete helplessness. Servan-Schreiber references an article from 2006 in Nature Reviews Cancer, which states that such emotional states can give a cancer illness the opportunity to develop more quickly.
But the factors that contribute to cancer development are so many and so varied that no one should ever have to blame themselves for falling ill.
People who have been diagnosed with cancer can however learn to live differently and thus contribute to their own recovery.
Researchers should today agree that repressing emotions is not good for you.
Is there a specific personality type that could be seen as particularly susceptible to cancer?
There has been some research into this. One study compared heart patients with cancer patients and showed that the cancer patients had a tendency to belittle discomforting experiences, embellish situations, have family secrets (so called type C personalities), while heart patients were capable, impatient, aggressive achievers (so called type A personalities).
Servan-Schreiber notes that the theory of type C personality is appealing but lacks scientific stringency. The reason he presents this theory in his book is that it underlines another factor in cancer development, the feeling of powerlessness mentioned above, which today is the focus of a great many scientific studies.
Regardless which personality type you are there are tribulations that open old and badly healed wounds. For example a study conducted at the University of Atlanta says that “inflammation factors – which contribute to the development of cancer – of depressed adults with traumatic childhoods react unusually strongly to laboratory-induced stress.”
Of course, it is difficult to study whether feelings of powerlessness (never being able to express your emotions and almost never experiencing a deep inner peace) can influence the growth of a tumour.
You can obviously not expose cancer patients to situations that might make their disease worse.
If feelings of powerlessness and despair can further cancer development, can peace and harmony halt it? Yes, there are some cases which suggest that meditation, yoga and breathing exercises have a positive impact. David Servan-Schreiber sees increasing indisputable evidence of this, even if there are no strictly scientific studies of it.
It is however beneficial to meet others in similar circumstances. Or to talk to someone who can handle the cancer patient’s fear, loneliness and anger, but also his/her dreams and thoughts about the future, about death and how he/she manages the situation. It is important to come to the realisation that we are all wounded – more or less – and all ashamed of it and seeking to conceal it through different survival strategies.
We now know that feelings of powerlessness release hormones that activate the body’s “emergency systems”, such as inflammation processes, which make it easier for cancer tumours to grow and spread. Stress worsens the situation.
When we face crises in our lives we are often stricken with helplessness and fear. If those feelings are allowed to remain and become permanent, they can cause physiological changes which can damage the body’s defences. It is therefore important to let go of tensions regularly for example through psychotherapy and conversational therapy, art therapy, meditation, yoga, exercise and breathing techniques.
Few people know that the mental part of you influences your health almost as much as the biological and physical you. It is of outmost importance that you pay the mental part a lot of attention, and the ways are many. We will show just some of them. However, the backbone of everything is that you are honest to yourself and show yourself the respect you always have deserved.
Having cancer i tough, but don’t let this depress you, because depression and negative thinking is counteractive to your efforts to heal. Don’t worry – be happy, as much as you ever can. Read jokes and laugh loudly, the louder the better, because it is VERY GOOD FOR YOU. Soon you will notice its makes you a better quality life.
Then back to the serious stuff..
The mental therapies can be strenuous and often require entering a chaos where all learned behavioral patterns are scrutinized and questioned. It is good to know this from the beginning. That way the process is not as intimidating. It is easier to enter a tunnel if you know there is an opening at the other side.
What scares me and what do I do about it? Have I adjusted and want to please everyone? Do I consider the needs of others before I look to myself to see what I need? Do I cower before arguments to avoid conflict?
Do I feel like an outsider? Do I have to be “good” to be allowed to join in?
Then it’s perhaps time to sharpen your fangs… Hold your own.
Perhaps a lot of pent up anger lives inside you…
In therapy you gain greater knowledge of and understanding for yourself, and a greater sphere of consciousness.
It helps you to bear pain and fear in a new way. You gain courage to look your monster in the eye, the one who has haunted your dreams for years.
(Carl-Gustav Jung called the monster the Shadow.)
And once you realise the monster guards a great treasure, it is even easier to begin the journey.
The monster has after all the answer to why I feel badly…
In classical psychotherapy (CPT) the belief is that change must come through insight, where interpreting the transference is the primary tool. Another form of psychotherapy is CBT, cognitive behavioural psychotherapy (which appears to be on the forefront right now).
Initially these were developed on different theoretical bases which in themselves are not in opposition to one another.
Classical psychotherapy (CPT) initially focused more on the cognitive, on thoughts and imaginations, while behavioural therapy (CBT) focused more on behaviour itself. Today both disciplines essentially focus on the same things, even if some differences remain which mainly concern the relationship between the therapist and the client.
Symbolic therapy is an umbrella term for comprehending the non-verbal within us and in communication with others.
By working for example with dreams, painting, fairytales and stories, symbolic drama, myths and dance we equip ourselves with powerful tools to change our lives.
When working with inner imagery you walk bravely paths of your unknown inner forest and make it more accessible.
When painting it is not a question of painting consciously, planning it out. It is not painting art for sale, but letting the hand lead to express what the body feels.
When writing it is not to form a text that is grammatically and stylistically correct. You write what intuitively pours out of you.
When dancing you don’t strive for choreography. You let your body move with your emotion.
Suddenly you begin to get perspective into what is happening. Old thought patterns begin to crumble.
And without understanding why you suddenly begin to feel better.
Anna-Lena Vikström in Sweden writes:
When treating with Reiki you lay your hands in different positions to strengthen the life energy and activate the self-healing ability of the person being treated. You activate the immune system and the self-healing force from within!
Reiki is the most commonly used healing tradition in Sweden and the one which has scientifically measurable effects, as the touch reduces stress, relieves pain and activates a wellness hormone, oxytocin.
Reiki is a good stress-reducer and you don’t need to believe in any supernatural powers. The treatment lasts approximately an hour as you lie clothed on a treatment table in a peaceful environment.
The idea of living with Reiki comes from Buddhism and means living simply, in the here and now and choosing to see the harmonious around us rather than vice versa.
Reiki is based on the old Eastern philosophy of a life energy which runs through all living things. In Japanese it is called “ki” and in Chinese “chi”. There are different types of ki-energy. Reiki is the kind of ki that upholds harmony in the universe and restores the perfect harmony, when you activate Reiki. The ki-energy then becomes Reiki where you picture the healing.
All your thoughts affect you both mentally and physically. By practicing “forgiveness” you can teach yourself to think healing thoughts, rather than thoughts that make you ill or hinder your recovery. We can improve our ability to reduce stress-related tensions in our bodies. Forgiveness is not mere fantasy but something that concretely works on all aspects of your life in a rejuvenating and refreshing way. Through a process of forgiveness you can break the cycle of feelings of guilt, disappointment and bitterness. It is a very simple process and something you can do entirely on your own – those surrounding you will only notice the positive changes in you. You can release the lust for life that has been chained by the shackles of the past and switch to a more positive attitude to life. Licentiate of Medicine Tuulikki Saaristo, who has developed forgiveness therapy in Finland and has a legitimate background in psychotherapy, has specialised in forgiveness therapy and education. Read her book “Taikasanat eli miksi antaisin anteeksi” (see booklist).