Beyond the Doctor’s Office: Self-Care for Cancer Patients

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, you may spend a lot of your time and energy — both mental and physical — dealing with the health concerns that come with the disease and its treatment. But your mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing have a tangible impact on your body’s health, so it’s important to look at every facet of how you feel. Approaching a cancer diagnosis and treatment holistically can be overwhelming, though. So here are some suggestions on how to practice self-care when you’re dealing with the disease.


Make Time for Healthy Hobbies

Research shows engaging in leisure activities can lift our moods, relieve boredom, and even lower our stress levels and heart rates. So it’s important to carve some time in your schedule to pursue healthy hobbies. And you can even integrate them into treatment sessions. For instance, try listening to audiobooks or podcasts during drive time to medical appointments or to distract yourself during chemotherapy sessions.

During down time at home, look for leisure activities that take your mind off other concerns. Experts call this a state of flow, which is similar to meditation, according to an article in DailyWorth. In addition to clearing your mind, completely engaging in a hobby can ignite your creativity and confidence — particularly when you complete a project you’re proud of.


Schedule a Spa Day, Then Sleep In

Facials and manicures are a great way to pamper ourselves, but some spa treatments can have measurable benefits for our mental and physical health and wellbeing. For example, studies have shown massage therapy is an effective way to reduce stress, pain, and muscle tension, according to an article from the Mayo Clinic. Massage may also help people deal with conditions including anxiety, fibromyalgia, headaches, and insomnia related to stress.

And getting solid sleep should also a critical part of your self-care routine, which can be difficult since many cancer patients struggle with insomnia. In addition to trying treatments such as massage therapy, experts suggest improving your “sleep hygiene.” For example, you should avoid caffeine and alcohol for four to six hours before bed, avoid eating heavy or spicy foods before bedtime, take the television out of the bedroom, and keep your sleep environment dark, quiet, cool, and otherwise comfortable.    


Enlist a Furry Therapist

Contact with animals, whether they be therapy dogs at hospitals and cancer treatment centers or your family pet, offers a wide variety of benefits. For instance, people who participated in a quiet 30-minute session interacting with a dog showed higher levels of dopamine, a natural neurotransmitter that boosts mood, and endorphins, hormones associated with feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Study subjects also showed decreased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

So simply spending time with a furry friend can improve people’s health, happiness, and emotional wellbeing. And, if cancer leaves you with a disability, you might also qualify to receive a trained service dog that can assist you with practical tasks such as getting around. Check with your healthcare provider to see if animal therapy or a service dog is a good option for you.


Focus on Your Spiritual Side

Studies have shown that a sense of spiritual wellbeing may help improve cancer patients’ health and quality of life by decreasing their levels of anxiety and depression and reducing their sense of isolation, among other effects. And you don’t necessarily have to be religious to be spiritual. For example, mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation and creative programs including writing, art and music therapy have been shown to increase people’s sense of spiritual wellbeing. If you are interested in tapping into that reserve, you may want to ask your healthcare team for advice and recommendations.

There are many aspects of cancer care that don’t necessarily involve medications or drives to the doctor’s office. So, if you have with cancer, start with these self-care suggestions to help you deal with the disease.


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