Facing a childhood cancer diagnosis can stir many different emotions for both parents and children. During moments when emotions such as anxiousness, fear and worry take hold of our minds and hearts, the simple things in everyday life can feel overwhelming and difficult.
Practicing mindfulness techniques on a regular basis can help reduce and manage some of these uncontrolled thoughts, spiraling negative thinking, stress and worry.
What is mindfulness and how can it help me and my child through the cancer experience?
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present and engaged in the current moment, with non-judgmental awareness of thoughts, feelings and surroundings. Gently focussing on the present moment over and over again can teach your mind to be still.
Mindfulness has been shown to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms, increase a sense of wellbeing, and help with pain management.
How to experience mindfulness through your 5 senses
Taking the time to engage your sense of sight. Notice things around you one by one. Look at all the details – colours, textures and patterns. It could be the clouds in the sky, a tree blowing in the wind, a pattern on a blanket or someone’s shirt, or even the creases in your hands.
Sense of touch can help in diverting your attention from anxious thoughts which help with reducing feelings of anxiousness. Focus your attention on the sensation of your clothes against your skin, whether it’s smooth, dry, warm or cold. Pay attention to the feeling of the chair supporting you. Experience the sensation of your toes wiggling in your shoes or on the floor.
Focussing your attention on various sounds in your environment can ground you in the moment. What external sounds do you hear? Is it the intensity of the rain hitting the footpath, a distant dog barking, music playing in the background or the traffic outside?
Some smells or scents have the power to evoke or trigger memories from your past. Identifying pleasant smells that bring comfort can be helpful and straightforward grounding practice. This can be achieved by lighting a candle, buying a favourite essential oil and keeping it nearby for a quick sniff, enjoying the fragrance of freshly laundered sheets, or appreciating the scent of soap in the bathroom.
Taste can also be experienced through mindful eating. Pay attention to any food you’re consuming – how does it feel in your mouth, whether it’s hot, warm or cold, and what textures and flavours you can discern? Focus on any nutritional value entering your body. If mindful eating isn’t possible, bring your attention to the current taste in your mouth or imagine other tastes you’ve recently enjoyed, or try a piece of gum or a mint and be present with the flavour.
Mindfulness is a practice that can be easily done in any sequence and in various many settings, such as waiting in a hospital room while anticipating the arrival of the medical team, waiting for your child’s turn to have scans or during the drive home after an exhausting day at the hospital or outpatient clinic. It can be experienced as a way to connect with your child, especially if both of you are feeling worried or anxious about something.
Mindfulness is an act of self-care, a moment of self-compassion when your own wellbeing craves a gentle hug.
- Shukla, A. (2020). A 5-Step Mindfulness Grounding Technique To Ease Anxiety & Why Mindfulness Works. Cognition Today.
- Blanck P, et al. (2018). Effects of mindfulness exercises as stand-alone intervention on symptoms of anxiety and depression: Systematic review and meta-analysis.