As an oncology practitioner, your job may always have aspects that are potentially stressful. Whether it’s a medical emergency or the emotional aspects of the job, it doesn’t have to be your constant state. By taking just a few moments to try some breathing practices, you can shift from an anxious state into one that leaves you more balanced and ready to take on the challenges that come with your position.
Practicing deep abdominal breathing—also known as diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing—can combat the “fight or flight” reaction and trigger the “relaxation response,” highlighted in Dr. Herbert Benson’s book that goes by the same name.
Stress and its effects
Most healthcare providers are often in a state of tension, so you may not notice your heart pound, muscles tense, or breathing begin to get shallow when things get stressful. Those symptoms are a result of the body’s stress hormones releasing. Sometimes showing you care—the very thing that makes you a good practitioner—can ail you as much as an emergency situation. This is evident in nurses who experience compassion fatigue or secondary traumatic stress.
Over time, stress can do a number on our bodies, leading to everything from heart disease and hypertension to depression and insomnia. Tuning into when your body needs a break can do wonders for your health—and those around you.
Breathing with purpose
You can break the anxiety cycle with breathing, which has been shown to be useful for medical providers. Instead of relying on your body’s autopilot breathing method—usually quick, shallow breathing when things at work are overwrought—practice a more intentional method of breathing, such as the abdominal breathing mentioned here.
Controlled breathing is shown to lower blood pressure, improve control type 2 diabetes, enhance sleep, and can change gene expression involved in immune function, energy metabolism, and insulin secretion. Those are just a few of its many benefits.
The techniques outlined in this article can prevent tension build-up, and help you respond to stressful situations in a more focused way. When patients see you calmer and more energized, that may be the very thing they need to press on with their own battle. And you will have more energy to enjoy the incredible work you do to help others.