person working to turn stress into peace

Using FACES to Improve Your Health

I recently listened to a very informative webinar on entitled, "Mind-Body Techniques to Cope with the Stresses of Cancer." If you have the time to listen, I strongly recommend it as it was very interesting and well-presented.

One of the presenters is David Spiegel, MD. Dr. Spiegel is with the Stanford University School of Medicine. I found his portion of the workshop especially interesting. The content below summarizes his presentation on managing stress.


A useful way to manage stress is to use the FACES method:

Face your stress rather than flee from it.
Alter your perceptions.
Cope actively.
Express emotions.
Seek Social Support.

Face stress

No one disputes that a cancer diagnosis brings a great deal of stress to the patient as well as to all who love him or her. However, we cannot run away from the psychological or physiological stressors caused by cancer. Instead, we must face them head-on.

It is actually medically important for us to stand and face our fears rather than giving in to the inclinations to flee from them. Dr. Spiegel says that the cost of continuing to worry is to "immerse in stressors."

Stress elevates cortisol which in turn elevates our glucose levels. In the end, this harms the body's ability to cope. Managing stress is crucial for our overall health and ability to fight our cancer.

Alter perceptions

Altering our mental state is a powerful stress response technique. There are a variety of methods to do this. One is self-hypnosis.

Self-hypnosis is the ability to narrow and focus your attention. For instance, have you ever been reading a book or watching a movie and become so intent on the story that you feel like you are literally a part of it?

Athletes frequently prepare for competition by visualizing themselves running the best race of their lives. This vivid mental experience has been proven to improve actual performance.

Our brains are master regulators of our bodies. We can learn to use them to manage our stress response and alter our emotional reactions to difficult situations.

For instance, if you are sitting in a chair, were you thinking about how your feet feel touching the floor or how your bottom feels resting on the chair seat before I asked this question? No. Because our brains tell us what is important for us to focus on. There is no need for you to focus on the sensations of sitting while reading this article.

In the same way, our brains can be trained to ignore pain. Neuro-imaging studies have shown that cancer patients and others can actually reduce the brain's reaction to pain signals by using self-hypnosis techniques.

Cope actively

Granny used to tell us to "eat well, sleep well, and get plenty of exercise." It turns out her advice was brilliant. These are things we all need to do to help our bodies live as well and as long as possible.

Sleeping well, Dr. Spiegel says, is especially important. We should spend at least one-third of our lives asleep. When we go to sleep, our parasympathetic nervous system turns on and helps us self-soothe. This is one reason why we feel so much better in the morning, even about stressful problems, than we did the night before.

Express emotions

Realize that there is nothing wrong with feeling sad or angry or anxious about your cancer. Emotion is not a problem, it is a coping mechanism.

Dr. Spiegel says that it is good for the body and the brain to admit that you're having negative feelings. By acknowledging them, you'll actually learn to cope with them better.

Social support

Humans are social creatures. Studies show that cancer patients who participate in support groups are less anxious and depressed and live longer than those who do not. Support groups, whether formal or informal, are actually an important component of your overall medical treatment.

Our brains are very powerful. We need to learn to use them to alter our perceptions and change our mental state. Techniques such as mindfulness, yoga, and self-hypnosis can help us live fully, even in the face of stressors as great as cancer.

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