From Harvard Health Publishing
Very few things sap energy as quickly as stress. Think back to a time when you felt stressed out before you even received your cancer diagnosis, whether it was due to work, a tense relationship, road rage, or feeling like you didn’t have enough hours in the day to get everything done. Exhausting, right?
Now add in cancer. Even if you’re able to cut out many of the things that used to cause you to worry, simply dealing with a life-changing diagnosis is stressful. And while none of us can totally eliminate stress, there are ways to help dial it back through lifestyle choices, and by doing so, to gain a bit more energy back.
Stick to an exercise routine
Yes, cancer is exhausting. But exercise can boost energy levels by raising levels of feel-good hormones in your brain, which is why you feel so good—and usually have more energy—after a workout. It also helps take your mind off whatever is causing your stress and puts you more “in the moment.” Repetitive activities like swimming, walking, or running also calm the mind, and can help you sleep better at night. Some research suggests that as little as 20 minutes of low-to-moderate aerobic activity, 3 days a week, can help sedentary people feel more energized.
Find a hobby
If you find a hobby you enjoy—whether it’s playing music, fly fishing, or doing puzzles—it can absorb your mind, distracting you from your worries. Crafts are also a good bet. Ongoing research shows that the rhythmic and repetitive nature of knitting, crocheting, and other crafts can be a significant stress reliever that crowds out feelings of worry, anger, obsession, and anxiety. The act of doing a task over and over again breaks the train of everyday thought and calms both the body and mind.
Anyone who enjoys hiking, gardening, walking, bike riding or other outdoor activities knows that going outside can help restore your body and soul. New research suggests that spending time in nature also benefits your health in specific ways, like lowering your stress levels and boosting your mood. Your hospital may already have a “healing garden” where you can retreat for a breath of fresh air, or it might even offer therapeutic gardening opportunities for patients and family members. Studies of horticultural therapy and therapeutic gardens confirm that gardening and spending time in nature are associated with a host of benefits that include reducing anxiety, decreasing stress, boosting mood, stimulating memory and concentration, and improving your immune response and overall physical health.
Try mind-body practices
By focusing on controlled movements and deep breathing, mind-body activities like yoga, tai chi, and qigong can reduce stress and enhance energy. They also improve balance, coordination, and mood. And because these activities are low-impact, they’re often a good choice for people who are dealing with the rigors of cancer treatment.
Stop, breathe, reflect, choose: a mindful way to deal with stress
If you tend to overreact to stressful situations, try this exercise the next time stress presents itself:
- Stop. Consciously call a mental time-out. By saying “Stop,” you can halt the negative reaction in its tracks. Breathe. Take a few deep breaths to reduce physical tension and step back from the problem before reacting.
- Reflect. Ask yourself how bad the situation really is. Is there another way to view it? What’s the worst that could happen?
- Choose. Decide how to deal with the problem.
Always look to your doctor as your main source of support.
You should always look to your doctor as your main source of support. Understand Cancer Together does not take the place of talking to your doctor or health care team. If you have any questions that are specific to your medical condition or treatment, or you’re having side effects, please contact your doctor’s office right away.