Stress is especially dangerous for those with cancer -- it's even been tied to lower survival rates -- but a new study suggests art and mindfulness could help decrease anxiety among this group.
Creative art therapy, in addition to a mindfulness training program, seems to provoke actual brain changes linked with decreased stress in women with breast cancer, according to the small new study published in the journal Stress and Health.
"This type of expressive art and meditation program has never before been studied for physiological impact and the correlation of that impact to improvements in stress and anxiety," study researcher Dr. Daniel Monti, M.D., the director of the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine, said in a statement.
The study included 18 people with breast cancer, who received their diagnosis sometime between the three years before the study and six months before the study. None of the participants were in active treatment for their cancer. At the start of the study, they were asked to fill out a checklist of 90 symptoms, and they also underwent fMRI brain imaging as they did a "neutral" task, a stressor task, and a meditation task.
Some were assigned to take a mindfulness based art therapy course, while others were assigned to just take an education course, both for eight weeks. The mindfulness based art therapy course included lessons in mindful yoga, mindful breathing, emotional awareness, etc., as well as art activities where they were able to express themselves emotionally.
After the eight-week period, the study participants filled out the symptom checklist again, and also underwent the brain scans again.
Researchers found that the study participants who were assigned to the mindfulness based art therapy course had actual brain changes linked with stress, reward and emotions. Specifically, they experienced more cerebral blood flow in the left insula, amygdala and hippocampus regions of the brain.
The study participants in the mindfulness based art therapy course also experienced less anxiety and stress, according to their responses to the symptom checklist.
For more ways to naturally relieve stress, check out the slideshow below: