Cancer patients who suffer from a fear of medical procedures, such as needle phobia, claustrophobia, and the fear of nausea, have been shown to benefit from stress relief techniques and complementary therapies designed to manage their stress, according to a new therapy evaluation at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester, England.
The findings show that cancer patients who were taught rapid stress management techniques (RSMTs) were able to achieve a calm state both before and during procedures as a result of the interventions. Those who took part were positive about the experience.
The research was conducted on participants at the acute oncology complementary therapy service at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester. Subjects had been experiencing difficulties such as needle phobia, claustrophobia, and the fear of nausea before treatment. All had been referred to the study over distress related to radiotherapy and chemotherapy procedures.
Face to face or telephone interviews were conducted with 19 patients, most of whom were women. These discussions revealed pre-existing phobias, the experience of flashbacks to previous traumatic events, fear of the disease spreading and the possibility of dying.
The researchers addressed the following themes with the participants: being distressed; coping with distress; surviving distress and thoughts about the complementary service.
In general, participants were taught two rapid stress management techniques, sometimes after another brief complementary treatment such as massage, aromatherapy, or reflexology.
The most commonly used stress management techniques deployed were the following: tightening and releasing stress balls in time with four slow breaths; redirecting the fight or flight response by tightening and releasing groups of muscles combined with slow comfortable breaths, and taking a sip of water and holding it on the tongue for ten seconds before swallowing, repeating the process three times.
On learning self-help techniques, one patient described the benefits: “mindfulness, self hypnosis, and relaxation… to help me to look at things in a different way… not to panic… to be able to sleep because I was exhausted…”
Complementary therapies helped participants avoid negative feelings, such as loneliness, fear or exhaustion, the study found. The therapy also helped participants maintain “mind over matter.” Feelings of panic were lowered and even helped patients to fight disease.
The findings are published in the journal Cancer Nursing Practice.