Breast Cancer Survivors Banish Depression with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

While the mortality rate of women with breast cancer is decreasing, the incidence of depression in women who have undergone treatment for breast cancer is on the rise. As many as 50% of all women who are affected with the disease will experience some kind of post-recovery melancholy. Thankfully, researchers from the Sinclair School of Nursing at the University of Missouri have brought to our attention a specific meditation technique, and suggest how it can help breast cancer survivors revive their zest for life.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a type of mindfulness training that uses the mind to combat anxiety and bring about a sense of wellbeing. It includes mental practices that heighten physical awareness, as well as yoga and time spent in quiet, reflective meditation. Developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979, MBSR helps people foster their own mind-body connection, as well as create a deeper awareness of how thoughts and feelings can affect physical and emotional health.

The MBSR program consists of eight to ten week group sessions including practice in meditation skills, stress response and coping techniques. The University of Missouri’s team of researchers gathered data from the participants during and after the group sessions. Measurements of blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate were recorded. Not surprisingly, the participants’ physical responses to MBSR were favorable. Blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate all decreased, suggesting a lowered stress response. In addition, the subjects said their mood improved and their level of mindfulness increased.

One researcher pointed out a theory into why there is such a positive response from MBSR in breast cancer patients. Jane Armer, professor of nursing, suggested it is “because it instills a sense of control over one’s life,” and control is something that can get lost in the midst of being diagnosed and treated for cancer.

The renewed sense of hope created by mindfulness meditation is key in relieving the physical and emotional symptoms of depression in breast cancer survivors. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction group sessions are offered in more than 200 medical centers, hospitals and clinics around the world and are taught by trained physicians, nurses, social workers and psychologists. In an effort to support, not replace, Western medicine, MBSR works as a way to help patients tap into their own internal resources for healing.

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