Mind-body Practices Can Lower Distress

Mind-body practices like connecting with friends on a laptop can lower distress.
Mind-body practices like connecting with friends on a laptop can lower distress.

Receiving a childhood cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatment can be very stressful. Every aspect of a child’s life is turned upside down. The uncertainty and pain associated with long and grueling treatment can be overwhelming. But the good news is there are ways to help children cope.  Mind-body practices like yoga, mindfulness, and diversion can in fact lower distress. And connecting with classmates, friends and family using electronic devices can help at a time of significant isolation.

The connection between mind and body

There’s a complex interrelationship between our mind and our body. When they work in unison, they can positively affect our well being.

A mind-body manuscript in the National Center for Biotechnology Information addresses this very issue. It discusses the importance of doctors identifying distress in cancer patients. And it highlights the importance of providing different methods to help patients manage the emotional challenges of a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Mikey actually discussed at length the psychological challenges of cancer treatment with one of his physicians, Dr. Abraham Bartell. They shared thoughts about the connection between body and mind. They talked about how, if a patient’s psychological condition is improved, he will physically feel better.

The doctor shared a real-life story to illustrate his point. He described a patient who had been experiencing uncontrollable nausea from chemotherapy. His doctors had given him as much anti-nausea medication as they possibly could. But still the nausea and vomiting persisted.  Finally, they decided to give him an anti-depressant to improve his mental condition. The nausea was finally gone!

Mind-body practices in cancer care

According to Dr. Abraham Bartell, from Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, the mind-body connection between emotional wellness and physical well-being is important for all cancer patients. He believes that this connection is even more pronounced in young people.

Mikey also believed in the importance of helping pediatric cancer patients cope with the mental stress of treatment. “We’ve seen that distractions and psychological intervention can aid in nausea. But there is much more. ” he wrote in his journal entry. He referenced a study published in the National Cancer Institute Journal which discussed three important points:

  • Behavioral intervention can effectively control anticipatory nausea and vomiting.
  • Behavioral intervention combining several behavioral methods can improve anxiety and distress associated with invasive medical treatments.
  • Hypnotic-like methods, using relaxation, suggestion, and distracting imagery, hold the greatest promise for pain management.

The importance of the mind-body connection

Early in his treatment, Mikey realized the importance of the mind-body connection. He knew that doctors were doing everything they could to help him physically. But the long hours of treatment were taking their toll on him emotionally. He discovered that the more he was able to distract himself, the better he was able to cope with the chemotherapy side effects. So he started to do a lot of research about the mind-body connection. What he learned was how significant this connection could be in the healing process.

As a result of his many months spent in the hospital, Mikey experienced the healing power of the mind-body connection. “Taking your mind off treatment really makes you feel better.” he said. But Mikey also knew that not much was being done for children in this area of medicine.

Helping kids cope with cancer

“There are many foundations that raise money for cancer research, or for hospitals to upgrade facilities, or to help patients pay for treatment, or to help patients find good treatment.” Mikey wrote, “But there are very few, if any, that help children during treatment deal with perhaps the most difficult burden: the psychological challenges of cancer treatment. And these challenges are direr than meets the eye.”

Mikey believed that electronic devices could be part of the answer. He knew that these devices, which provide distraction and diversion could in fact offer relief. Children could connect to classmates, friends and family outside the walls of the hospital! They would be able to leave the isolation of their hospital bed. And in doing so, they could better tolerate the physical effects of treatment. As Mikey said, “And the cancer patients are just kids again.”

Learn more about the mind body connection

There are many articles and websites that offer information about mind-body practices. We found a few to share, and you may find them helpful for you and your child. CancerCare offers information on relaxation techniques and mind-body practices. These techniques can reduce distress. And they can help children manage side effects such as pain, fatigue and nausea. KidsHealth also has information sheets on relaxation techniques and mind body practices.

This information is of a general nature only and is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please ask your doctor or medical staff.