Blair Justice, Mary Ann Richardson and their associates at the University of Texas-Houston School of Public Health, conducted a pilot study to explore the effects of imagery vs. support on coping, attitude, immune function and emotional well-being after breast cancer. For all women, immune function and quality of life improved. Both intervention groups showed better coping skills than the standard care group, while the imagery group had less stress, more stamina and better quality of life.
Beyond the value of antidepressants and other mood elevators, which are the grist of another story, are some tried-and-true natural recipes for coping with anguish:
- Learn to relax: Dr. Elkin uges rapid relaxation. "Take a deep breath, deeper than normal, and hold it in until there is slight discomfort. At the same time, squeeze your thumb and first finger together (as if you were making the okay sign) for six seconds. Exhale slowly through your mouth, release the pressure in your fingers, allow the tension to drain out. Repeat three times. With each breath, let your shoulders droop and drop your jaw
- Forgive mistakes. Letting go of old hurts can lift your mind and spirit. A guest on "Oprah" grew up to forgive his abusive mother, who had savagely mistreated him as a child, and went on to triumph in his career and as a loving father and husband.
- Think positive thoughts. Happiness expert, University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Martin Seligman, and author of Learned Optimism and The Optimistic Child, says that optimistic people minimize their misfortunes, while pessimistic people tend to blame themselves when things go wrong and attribute positive experiences to chance.
- Focus your mind. Researchers at Maharishi say relaxing and reducing stress through transcendental meditation may reduce artery blockage and the risk of heart attack and stroke, according to a study in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke during meditation the brain acts to quiet the body through concentrated breathing or word repetition, evoking a relaxation response that minimizes the harmful effects of stress.
- Sara Lazar, Ph.D., a Harvard research fellow in psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, suggests meditation activates specific regions of the brain that may influence heart and breathing rates. Using a brain imaging technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, Lazar measured blood flow changes in seasoned meditators. "We found significant decrease in blood flow and activity in specific areas of the brain," says the study's senior author Dr. Herbert Benson, president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Mass. and author of "Staying Healthy in a Stressful World."
- Benson, who also wrote The Relaxation Response, has shown that simple exercises can dramatically lower catecholamine levels in anxious and normal people to reduce risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and ulcers. "The usual, fight-or-flight brain response liberates adrenalin and is stressful to the body but the relaxation response causes a decrease in activity for the entire brain," he says.