Physical and Mental Well-being, Article, Marketplace of Ideas

Science-based exercises promoting mental wellbeing for cancer survivors

Science-based exercises promoting mental wellbeing for cancer survivors
Surviving cancer is sometimes rough for our mental health. At the same time, it can open a window for growth. No matter where you are, there are things you can do to take care of yourself – right here and now.  
Loneliness, sorrow, fear, anxiety and anger. Or happiness, gratitude, togetherness and joy. Surviving cancer is a process that often evokes intense emotions of all kinds, and has profound effects on our mental health. And sometimes it is hard to know what is helpful, and where to find the right kind of support.  

The not-for-profit app Aware wants to change that and give everyone access to tools to take care of your mental health and personal growth, backed by science. It is a useful asset, free for personal use and supported by the Swedish foundation for survivors of childhood cancer, Barncancerfonden.  
Here are some tips from the chief psychologist at Aware: 
Each survivor’s journey is unique – yet they have a lot in common. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy, establishing regular routines and exercising together form the foundation also for mental health. Apart from that, I’d like to emphasize three aspects that together can help promoting mental health: 
1. Acceptance 
Accepting that what has happened cannot be changed, is one fundamental thing. 

It is easy to get caught up in thoughts and feelings around why this happened to you, and how things could have or should have been different. These thoughts are just and justified. But they are not very helpful when we are trying to navigate life. One way of dealing with them is the STOP-technique: 
  • S for Stop the current activity. 
  • T for Take a deep breath, or two. 
  • O for Observe the thoughts and feelings that are present, and let them go, like leaves on a stream, or cars on a highway. 
  • P for Proceed with whatever you were doing when the thoughts showed up. 
2. Relationships 
Relationships do not grow automatically but need nurturing. And that is often more difficult during and after a cancer diagnosis. Relationships are generally important for our wellbeing and since they involve other people we are not in total control. But there are things we can do to improve the chances of lasting and meaningful relationships: 
  • Take turns - Do tell something about yourself and mix it up with asking about the other person. 
  • Validate - Listen and let the other person know that you understand them. 
  • Open up - Vulnerability can act as a glue in relationships, but also sharing happy news. 
  • Do something that you enjoy together.  
3. Challenge yourself to do what you love 
Things may seem scary, unfair, hard or impossible. But no matter where you have been, I’m sure there are things that you dream of. Things you value in life, things you want to pursue. Yes, you may fail. But there is also a chance that you might succeed. But only if you try. Taking steps towards a meaningful life is not easy, but the fear and anxiety cannot hurt you. 
Want to practice these things? The non-profit Aware app is free for personal use and has science-based exercises that promote mental wellbeing for cancer survivors. Also, you can connect with friends or strangers, and join live sessions where you get to share your experience with others.

Download AWARE here. 

Jenny Rickardsson is a licensed psychologist and holds a PhD in medical science. She specializes in digital interventions for mental health and chronic conditions. She shares her time between doing pain research at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and producing evidence-based digital content in the Aware app for the non-profit foundation 29k.

Author: Jenny Rickardsson, Chief psychologist, Aware + 29k, lic. psychologist, PhD

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or European Health and Digital Executive Agency (HADEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.