You might have heard from others that during your breast cancer journey, it’s best to "stay positive." After all, having an optimistic mindset has been shown to lower the risk of heart attacks, reduce stress, and generally improve life satisfaction. However, when a serious health threat like a cancer diagnosis is thrown into the mix, it’s not always that simple.
Here, we’ve collected a series of articles, ranging from personal accounts to scientific literature reviews, all aimed at examining whether or not positive thinking can actually help throughout your cancer journey. The consensus? Probably not- at least, not as the miracle cure we’ve all been waiting for. However, that’s not to say that positive thinking should be completely abandoned. Check out the resources below to learn more.
This literature review summarizes four main applications of positive thinking in cancer care, including having a positive mindset during care, using positive psychology methods during cancer treatment, and the concepts of “benefit finding” and “post-traumatic growth”. The last two concepts relate to a phenomenon of survivors finding positive aspects within the overall negative experiences they went through, and while there may be a mental health benefit, the reviewers found no physical or immune improvement, as many of the positive psychology studies claimed for there to be. While the reviewers agree that positive thinking can have benefits for some, with serious, often systemic illnesses such as cancer, it is difficult to expect one’s mindset to heavily influence their physiological state. Read more
The American Cancer Society created an FAQ-style resource for those wondering how their mindsets may impact their cancer care. They report that generally, people’s feelings and attitudes have very little to do with their actual diagnosis. You cannot think your way into getting cancer, and you also cannot think your way out of it, Oftentimes, by trying to be positive, it hides the negative emotions that someone may have with regards to their cancer, and that can prove to be more of a burden than simply allowing themselves to feel upset would be. Some things that they find may help with symptom management or stress relief include guided imagery, meditation, and meeting with a support group. Read More
Barbara Ehrenrhich describes her breast cancer journey in relation to her trials with positive thinking. Finding herself lost in a sea of support groups, informative books, and medical advice, she turned to the positive thinking community in the hopes that it would make her experience a little more stress-free. Surrounded by messages such as, “‘Cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me’", or, “‘breast cancer has given me a new life. Breast cancer was something I needed to experience to open my eyes to the joy of living.’”, she quickly realizes that there is a less-than-positive edge to the current of positivity she was being swept up in. Read more
The short answer is no, probably not. Not only does thinking positively not impact breast cancer outcomes to any significant degree, as shown by multiple studies, but by trying to be consistently positive when facing such a stressful situation, or hiding your true feelings when with others to seem more positive, it can often only serve to isolate you further from your support networks. By tying your mindset to your prognosis, it can lead you to feel like you are responsible for however your cancer is progressing, which simply isn’t true. But there are things that you can do to help your mental wellbeing- things like joining a support group, or getting help from a mental health professional can both help curb the stress and anxiety that accompanies breast cancer, and help decrease rates of depression and mental fatigue. Read more
We hope that these resources help to clarify the often confusing relationships between mindset and physical health, especially as it relates to breast cancer. Breast cancer can come with a lot of complicated emotions, and we at SBC want you to know that it’s ok to not be ok.
If you’re looking for some mindfulness exercises or a support group to join, then look no further: SurvivingBreastCancer.org has a few programs that may be able to help relieve some of the stresses associated with your breast cancer journey. Positive or not, we welcome you as you are.