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Safe and Creative Emotional Outlets During and After Breast Cancer Treatment

Complentary and Supportive Therapies

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Updated May 30, 2012

Here are some safe, creative ways to express the emotions that come with breast cancer. Each has physical and psychological benefits. While none of these therapies offer a cure for cancer, they do help improve many aspects of your health.

Art Therapy -- Express Your Pain and Fears

Benefits: Increased self-esteem, improvement in overall health, decrease in anxiety and depression.
How-To Example: Choose a symptom and write down how you feel about it. Include how it feels physically and emotionally. Get creative -- choose to use abstract, realistic, or symbolic styles. Then, choose a media to work in, be it paint, pencil, crayons, or software, so that you can visually represent what you wrote. Outline a shape representing your symptom. Color it in with colors that represent how it makes you feel. For the background, pick colors that show how your symptom affects your mood. Add any details to the shape to bring it into focus. Study your artwork, and see what it reveals or expresses about your emotions.

Music Therapy -- Leave Your Bad Feelings Behind

Benefits: Promotes healing, reduces pain, lowers stress, may relieve nausea and vomiting related to chemo.
How-To Example: If you are musical, you can write music or lyrics that helps you focus on healing, or expresses your experience with your cancer journey. If music is not your forte, try listening to music or lyrics that take you away from your symptoms and set you free for a while. Music with a strong spiritual aspect may be helpful, or music that was popular during your teen years may prove useful. Do you feel well enough to attend a concert? Research shows that live music improves mood and reduces anxiety.

Movement or Dance Therapy -- Rebuilding Health and Expressing Emotions

Benefits: Reduces stress, improves self-esteem, may strengthen your immune system.
How-To Example: Sign up for a dance or Tai Chi class, and let the instructor know about your health situation. If you choose dance, learn how to express your feelings with your body. A dance therapist can watch you and help you move in ways that will give you greater relief from your symptoms and stresses. Tai Chi and Qigong are gentle disciplines that involve slow movement, meditation and breathing. Even though these exercises are based on martial arts, there is no stressful impact put on your body. Practice improves balance, muscle tone, and flexibility. During Tai Chi, you can envision your enemy (breast cancer) while you slowly punch and kick it.

Humor or Laugh Therapy -- Don't Let Cancer Ruin Your Day

Benefits: Relieves stress, reduces pain, improves heart rate and circulation. Laughter may release endorphins, chemicals that help control pain.
How-To Example: You can use passive humor by watching a funny movie, a comedy routine, or reading a humorous book. If you're in the hospital, ask if volunteers who work in humor therapy are available; many National Cancer Institute centers offer humor therapy. Active humor takes more work, because you have to make it happen. Telling jokes, doing laughter exercises, or joining a laughter club can be a great way to take your mind off of cancer. Finding humor in your cancer experience may be a challenge, but it can ease stressful situations.

Expressive Writing or Journaling -- Getting it Down and Out

Benefits: Long-term benefits include stress reduction, improved immune system, lowered blood pressure, improved mood, reduced depression.
How-To Example: Expressive writing involves journaling for 15 to 20 minutes a day, 4 or 5 days a week. Don't worry about perfect prose -- get your feelings down on paper without worrying about style, grammar, or spelling. You may think of this as a "core dump." In your first week of writing, you may feel more stress as you use the written word to blow off steam. This is a normal response, so don't be concerned. As you continue past the first week, it may become easier to channel your feelings and to come to terms with memories, as well as your present situation.

Counseling or Psychotherapy -- A Safe Place to Express Emotions

Benefits: Improves quality of life, reduces anxiety, alleviates depression.
Details: Psychotherapy and professional counseling is done in two ways -- individual and group therapy. Groups may be as small as a couple, or as large as a family. Clients and counselors meet in an office setting and use conversational therapy to discover and express emotions, thought patterns, and behavior that is not positive. Sessions are usually held weekly and last for 50 minutes. Everything that is talked about in a session is held confidential. You may be assigned reading or writing "homework" to do between sessions, which can be very helpful.

Gardens, Support Groups, Fundraising Events -- Getting Out and About

Benefits: Leave a legacy, meet survivors, be encouraged.
How-To Example: Sometimes just going somewhere other than the clinic and the pharmacy can lift your spirits. Visit a garden and contemplate the variety and beauty of life. If your health permits, plant a garden for a lasting place to visit and relax. Attend a local breast cancer support group. Meeting other patients and survivors can give you a good source of information and encouragement. The American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen Foundations sponsor many fundraising events throughout the year. Find an event and walk, run, or cheer on the participants.

Sources:

Palliative & Supportive Care. Art therapy improves coping resources: A randomized, controlled study among women with breast cancer. Published online by Cambridge University Press: June 29, 2006.

American Cancer Society. Music Therapy. Last Updated: 03/26/2007.

Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Published: 2005.

American Cancer Society. Psychotherapy. Last Updated: 03/26/2007.

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