Art Therapy and Meditation Can Ease Stress in Women Diagnosed with Breast Cancer

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A small study found that art therapy combined with meditation helped ease stress in women diagnosed with breast cancer.

The study was published in Stress and Health. Read “Changes in Cerebral Blood Flow and Anxiety Associated with an 8-week Mindfulness Programme in Women with Breast Cancer.”

A breast cancer diagnosis can bring out so many difficult emotions -- fear, anger, resentment, hopelessness, and more. It’s a big challenge to learn how to cope with these feelings, along with the stress of deciding on treatments.

This study included 18 women ages 52 to 77 who had been diagnosed with breast cancer between 6 months and 3 years before the study started; none of them were considered in treatment during the study, though some were still taking tamoxifen. The women were randomly assigned to one of two treatment groups: the art therapy/meditation program or a support group program. Both programs lasted for 8 weeks.

The art therapy/meditation program consisted of classes on:

  • meditation
  • breathing awareness
  • emotional awareness
  • guided imagery
  • the mind-body relationship
  • gentle stretching

as well as group art activities.

The support group program was the hospital’s standard breast cancer support group offering and gave the women support and resources to improve their quality of life. Most sessions included a guest speaker who was an expert on topics such as diet and fitness, navigating long-term care, or coping with cancer recurrence, as well as time for questions and sharing.

The women filled out a survey on stress and anxiety before and after the 8-week programs. Each woman also had functional MRIs before and after the programs to see if there were differences in blood flow and activity in areas of the brain associated with stress. The functional MRIs were done while the women were doing different things:

  • at rest
  • doing a “neutral” task (a task that wasn’t stressful or calming)
  • doing a meditation task
  • doing a stressful task

The researchers found that women in the art therapy/meditation program had greater blood flow in the brain compared to women in the support group program after the programs were done. The women in the art therapy/meditation program had more activity in specific areas of the brain, including:

  • the left insula, which helps us perceive emotions
  • the amygdala, which helps us experience stress
  • the hippocampus, which regulates stress responses
  • the caudate nucleus, which is part of the brain’s reward system

This means that the women in the art therapy/meditation group felt less stress, which was also reflected in their survey responses after the program.

Other small studies have suggested that guided imagery and meditation can help ease the stress and anxiety that often come along with a breast cancer diagnosis.

In the Breastcancer.org Complementary Medicine section, you can learn about 16 types of complementary techniques, including guided imagery and meditation. You’ll learn:

  • what to expect
  • how to find a qualified practitioner
  • important things to consider before trying a technique

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