Feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed following your cancer diagnosis? Mindfulness could be the answer.


When you’re diagnosed with cancer, it’s easy to think about the physical complications the disease brings – from nausea and hair loss to pain and fatigue. But what about the impact on your mental health?

Feelings of depression, anxiety, and fear are very common and are normal responses to this life-changing experience. Many things can cause these feelings. Changes in body image can affect self-esteem and confidence. Family and work roles may be altered. You might also fear death, suffering, pain, or all the unknown things that lie ahead.

Family members and caregivers often have these feelings, too. They may be afraid of losing their loved one. They may also feel angry because someone they love has cancer, frustrated that they “can’t do enough,” or stressed because they have to take on more at home.

There are many ways to help tackle these negative feelings – one option is through the practising of mindfulness.

Continue reading to find out more about this ancient practice, and see if it can help you or a loved one.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. And there’s growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodelling the physical structure of your brain.

Where did mindfulness originate?

Mindfulness practices have origins in the contemplative traditions of Buddhism. In Buddhism it is seen as a way to spiritual enlightenment and the end of suffering.

Is mindfulness a fad?

Mindfulness has evolved and gained popularity in the West over the last 20 years. There are a lot of misconceptions around mindfulness, including that it’s a fad with no evidence-base. Mindfulness doesn’t work for everyone, but for those who practise regularly it can have significant results.

Is mindfulness the same as meditation?

Some experts believe the two words are interchangeable. While others state that mindfulness is a type of meditation.

cancer mindfulness stress anxiety

How can mindfulness help people with cancer?

Living with cancer can mean that you experience all types of thoughts, feelings and sensations. Mindfulness exercises can help you to identify, tolerate and reduce difficult feelings and give you some control. They can also help improve your mental well-being and help you relax.

Is mindfulness for me? 

Many people benefit from practising mindfulness, but like any treatment or therapy its impact is not universal and its benefits will vary from person to person.

What resources are available?

  •  We have a wide range of books and other products to help with mindfulness and relaxation available on our main Live Better With website. Some popular products include:

The Little Book of Mindfulness by Dr Patrizia Collard

Mindfulness for Carers by Dr Cheryl Rezek

Colour Yourself to Mindfulness Postcard Book

  •  If you’re based in the United Kingdom, you can visit the Mental Health Foundation’s website for an online mindfulness course or details of mindfulness teachers in your area.


What can I do to get started? 

Try our five simple mindfulness exercises below that only take ten minutes each:

Mindful Breathing

The goal of this exercise is to allow your thoughts and feeling to come and go without them overpowering you. Sit in a comfortable place and keep your spine reasonably straight. Pay attention to the in-breath and the out-breath. If your mind starts to drift to others thoughts bring your mind back to your breathing.

Mindful Body

With this mindfulness exercise, the aim is to relax your body and mind for a good nights’ sleep. Start by imagining your brain leaving your head and travelling through your body to one of your feet. Once there, imagine your toe and foot muscles tightening and then relaxing. Then imagine taking your brain up to your calf, knee and thigh, stopping in each place to tense and relax your muscles. Repeat this with your other leg, arms and torso. Your limbs should start to feel heavy and you should sink into the mattress ready for a peaceful nights sleep.

Mindful Listening

The goal of this exercise is to help you relax and be in the present. Choose a piece of music you have never listened to but that you are interested in. Close your eyes and use headphones if you can. Don’t think about the type of music you are listening to or who is playing it. Just listen and allow yourself to become in involved in the music.

Mindful Observation

The goal of this exercise is to connect you with the beauty of the natural environment. Pick a flower, look out at the clouds, focus on anything natural within your immediate environment. Look at it as if it is for the first time and visually explore it – what colour it is, what do you think the texture is like?

Mindful Concentration

The goal of this exercise is to increase your ability to concentrate. Light a candle, it could be one with your favourite scent. Stare at the candle flame for ten minutes, looking at the flame. When your mind wanders, became of aware of where it is going and bring it back to the candle flame.