3 Positive Psychology Tips for Cancer Care

Think positive, be positive

Positive psychology can help people in their battle against cancer, and can help others in similar situations. Paula Rusly, a counsellor at CanHOPE, gives some practical tips.

It is common for cancer patients to be told to “think positively”, as it is believed to improve their mental and emotional health, and thus aid their healing process. But there is a school of thought that goes far beyond simply thinking positive: Positive psychology.

More than just trying to be optimistic about a bad situation, positive psychology is a scientific study that examines the strengths that help people and communities to thrive in all sorts of circumstances.

Studies have shown that developing and nurturing positive emotions, engagement, meaning, accomplishment and relationships can improve patients’ well-being and make them feel fulfilled, engaged and meaningfully happy. At the same time, it also recognises the value of being negative or realistic when it is appropriate.

Empirical studies have shown cancer survivors enjoying a higher quality of life after they learnt to nurture higher positive emotions and gratitude in life.

In general, positive psychology focuses on five main aspects:

  1. Positive emotions: Examples of positive emotions are feeling joyful, content, grateful, optimistic and cheerful. Some ways to nurture positive emotions are through learning how to be grateful and optimistic.
  2. Engagement: Being absorbed, engaged or interested in activities develops a psychological connection to these activities and helps people experience what is called a “state of flow”. This can create the sensation of time coming to a stop, so that people lose their sense of self and focus on the present.
  3. Meaning: When people understand the value of their lives and the pursuit of their work, they will enjoy their tasks more and feel a greater sense of satisfaction and well-being. This often comes from religion, family, and interest groups.
  4. Positive accomplishment: Knowing that they are making progress towards an achievable, realistic goal or are able to do certain activities gives people a sense of achievement and fulfilment.
  5. Positive relationships: People who have meaningful and intimate relationships experience greater psychological well-being. These are often found in close friendships and relationships with families, who can provide positive emotions and support.

How can you develop positivity in all these aspects? Here are three simple ways to start with:

Be thankful
Learning to feel and show gratitude can enable you to enjoy more positive affects.

Studies have shown that a habit of being thankful, at least once a week, made people more optimistic about the following week and about their lives in general. They were more enthusiastic, alert and determined, and more likely to make progress in goals relating to their health and relationships.

You can start a gratitude journal by taking some time each day – in the morning, evening, or on your way to work – to step outside your life and reflect. Think of three things which you are currently grateful for. This could be something small, like your spouse helping you buy something, or your pot of flowers blooming. Or, it could be a talent or gift you have, your lovely home, a goal you have achieved, an opportunity that you have, or someone who cares for you.

You can share your list with a partner, so that you have someone to remind you to keep your gratitude journal going.

You can also try writing a letter to someone you appreciate to thank him or her, whether it is for a small favour or a big sacrifice. It does not actually matter whether you mail it out or not; it is the act of expression that helps you to develop a grateful attitude.

You can also develop a culture of appreciation by learning to thank people, even for the smallest thing, like their  getting you a cup of tea or opening a door for you. Making other people feel valued for their efforts can benefit both giver and recipient.

Develop positive relationships
Studies have shown that there is value in positive relationship behaviours. People who have strong positive relationships with their friends and families and display them have higher levels of happiness and fewer signs of depression.

In practical terms, this means responding to people in a constructive and affirming manner. Positive psychologists call this an “active constructive” response – for example, being happy and excited when someone has a positive event or tells you about it, and asking questions or showing genuine interest and concern about the event.

Such responses can draw out positive emotions and help you build positive relationships with others.

Do a kind deed
Doing acts of kindness has been found to make people feel good about themselves. That is why many volunteers are able to find meaning in life. Researchers have observed that doing kind acts can lead a person to see others in a more positive manner, as well as build a sense of interdependence and cooperation in a community. It can also strengthen relationships, and help you shift the focus from yourself to someone else.

To start with, you can choose one day a week when you commit to doing one new special act or three little ones. A kind act can be a simple thing, like giving up your seat to someone or helping with household chores.

POSTED IN Psychological Health
TAGS cancer positive thinking, cancer tips, managing emotions