A new study published in The Lancet Oncology shows that anxiety can develop and linger in cancer survivors, and their spouses, long after the cancer has gone into remission.
While studies show that depression in cancer patients generally subsides after symptoms of a cancer have gone away, anxiety can develop in its place, and can even become more severe over time. There have not been many studies before this one that focused on the mental well being of the spouses of cancer survivors.
This particular study analyzed data from 43 studies involving 51,381 patients with a wide range of cancers. The analysis showed that two to ten years after their diagnosis, 18 percent of patients were still experiencing severe anxiety, compared to 14 percent of the general population.
While this was not a drastic difference, the results for couples were more dramatic. Researchers found that the levels of anxiety for couples was 28 percent for the patient, and 40 percent for the patient’s spouse.
According to Dr. Alex J. Mitchell, the study’s lead author and senior lecturer in psycho-oncology at the University of Leicester, “anxiety is a persistent problem long after the cancer has been diagnosed… it appears to be at least equal and perhaps more of a problem for spouses than patients.”
Dr. Laura B. Dunn of the University of California, San Francisco, agrees. “The anxiety may not decrease over time,” she says.
A time-tested, natural and healthy way for cancer survivors and their spouses to curb their feelings of anxiety is regular meditation. Daily meditation may be even more effective for spouses if they meditate together. A growing number of studies show that meditation can alleviate stress and anxiety, and keep these feelings from recurring if practiced regularly.
One study, performed at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience in June 2013, found that ‘mindfulness meditation’ actually changed the way that brain regions were activated, to form less anxious thinking patterns.
The study surveyed 15 volunteers, all in good health and with normal levels of anxiety, and no prior experience with meditation. The subjects were enrolled in classes that taught them techniques of ‘mindfulness meditation’, which included focusing on the breath and bodily sensations in the present moment, and to evaluate distracting emotions and thoughts without judgment.
Wake Baptist Medical Center researchers found that after every meditation session, they experienced less anxiety. Images taken of the volunteers’ brains displayed areas of the brain that were activated – the anterior cingulate cortex, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the anterior insula – were the same regions that control the higher functions of the brain, as well as the control of worrying.
While it is absolutely understandable that cancer survivors and their spouses may feel lingering anxiety long after the cancer has subsided, daily meditation can greatly ease these feelings of panic, and help sufferers relax and get back to enjoying their lives to the fullest.
-The Alternative Daily