Stress management is an important part of your treatment plan.

Facing metastatic breast cancer can involve a barrage of treatments, relentless fatigue and stress. With so much on your mind, it might be hard to think about adding one more task to your to-do list. But finding ways to manage your stress is an essential part of taking care of yourself.

Research shows that women with breast cancer who participated in mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques were better able to emotionally cope with their cancer, saw improvements in their physical abilities and had fewer depression symptoms. Doing something as simple as laughing also might improve your quality of life and help you manage anxiety and depression. Consider squeezing these stress busters into your daily schedule to help you cope with your cancer.

Multiple studies have shown that women who exercise regularly can reduce their stress. To make this work for you, choose activities that you look forward to doing each day. Maybe you enjoy gardening, walking around the neighborhood or swimming in your local pool. Try to find about 30 minutes per day to be as active as possible.

Mindfulness is the act of being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling at every moment — without interpretation or judgment. Research shows that women with breast cancer who practice mindful meditation and yoga are less stressed and anxious, and experience better emotional health and quality of life. Here's how to do it:

  • Sit or lie down and relax by breathing deeply.
  • Let your mind focus on each part of your body, from top to bottom or vice versa.
  • Feel every sensation in each part of your body. Acknowledge every sensation without judgment.
  • Move on to the next part of your body.

Ideally, take 20 to 30 minutes each day for your mindful meditation practice — though you can gain benefits from a five-minute session once or twice daily, as long as you practice every day.

Poor sleep increases stress hormones in your body. Make time for quality sleep, which can allow your mind and body to heal. Indulge your body's need for rest by:

  • Avoiding alcohol and caffeine for several hours before bedtime.
  • Limiting screen time before bed. Read a book instead.
  • Scheduling a rest or nap for midafternoon, around 2 or 3 p.m.
  • Napping for only 10 to 30 minutes. The longer you nap, the more likely you are to feel groggy afterward.

Life can't be only about hospitals and medications. Remember who you are outside of being a person with metastatic breast cancer and do what makes you happy. Research has shown that women with breast cancer who engage in laughter therapy lower their levels of anxiety, depression and stress. Make time for:

  • Doing things with friends who make you laugh.
  • Dancing, baking, gardening or any enjoyable activity.
  • Watching funny movies or TV shows.

Keeping your thoughts and feelings bottled up can increase your stress. Find outlets for expressing your feelings, such as:

  • Talking to a close friend or family member about whatever is on your mind.
  • A support group for women with breast cancer, where you can talk openly about your fears and frustrations with people who understand.
  • Seeking counseling from a therapist or clergy member.

You may find that you need all of these types of support at different times.

A new challenge can be a distraction, giving you a chance to think about something other than cancer. Picking up a new hobby also might boost your confidence. If you have the time and energy, try a painting or pottery class or learn how to play a new musical instrument.

Battling metastatic breast cancer can be overwhelming. Taking time to care for your mind and body can ease your stress and strengthen you for the road ahead.

July 14, 2017