Let’s face it: No one looks forward to a chemotherapy appointment. But there’s nothing wrong with entertaining yourself or grabbing some R&R in the chemo room, either. In fact, planning on how to pass your time during an infusion can help you feel less anxious and more in control. Here are six ways to turn your chemotherapy treatments into restorative “me time”:
Conquer chemo anxiety with...
Soothing sounds. Bring along an MP3 or portable CD player to take advantage of this recent finding: According to a study in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, listening to music or a calming voice (such as during guided meditation) can nix anxiety immediately before and during chemo treatment. The study-proven amount? Just 30 minutes. And if you don’t feel like chatting with others in the room afterward, keep wearing your headphones—even if nothing is playing.
A good story. Here’s where vicarious living comes in handy. Whether you’re reading about something or actually experiencing it, the emotional centers in your brain are activated just the same, say researchers at Washington University in St. Louis. The best story to choose is one that fits the mood you’re looking for, whether it’s a comedy, love story or inspirational biography. Plus, you have the option of going low-tech (book or magazine) or high-tech (e-reader or other touch-screen device). Another bonus: Watching a TV show or movie can do the same thing.
An awe-inspiring image. You can crowd out worrisome thoughts by gazing at amazing scenes of Paris or the world’s most beautiful beaches. In fact, Stanford University and University of Minnesota researchers discovered that looking at something that inspires feelings of awe—whether in person or in a picture—seems to creates a sense of well-being. What to bring to your appointment? A travel book or magazine, your favorite vacation photos—or just mentally relive an awe-inspiring memory. If the room has Wi-Fi, bring your laptop or smartphone and surf the Travel Channel.
Reminders of your ultimate goal. Stirring up positive emotions with breathtaking photos is effective, but maybe what would really inspire you is an image that symbolizes the reasons you're determined to beat cancer. “Some people bring along photos of grandbabies to look at—their goal of chemo is to see these little people grow up,” says Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, director for the Johns Hopkins Breast Center and administrative director of the Cancer Survivorship Programs at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore.
Pen and paper. Venting your feelings in a notebook or diary can help you blow off steam: Cancer patients who wrote in their journals before chemo responded better emotionally and physically, according to a study published in Oncologist. What’s more, writing about personal experiences helps improve memory and sleep and boosts the immune system.
Happy hands. Create instant calm by doing an activity that requires “handiwork,” such as knitting, playing solitaire or doing puzzles. Research by neuroscientist Kelly Lambert, MD, at Randolph-Macon College suggests that doing purposeful work with your hands will light up your brain’s reward centers and flood your body with feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin. Of course, there’s also the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel when you’re done.