A combination of mindfulness and art therapy has been shown to reduce stress levels and enhance quality of life among breast cancer patients.
In the first study of its kind, women with breast cancer who took part in an eight-week program involving exposure to a mixture of mindfulness and art therapy were found to have less brain activity in areas that cause stress and anxiety than did a control of women who did not participate.
“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,” explained Dr Daniel Monti, who led the study at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine, in the USA.
He and colleagues studied 18 breast cancer patients, all between 52 and 77. They were each asked to fill out a checklist of 90 symptoms, and they also underwent fMRI brain imaging while carrying out a “neutral” task, a stressor task, and a meditation task.
At that point, some were assigned to a therapy programme that combined Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) with Mindfulness-based Art Therapy (MBAT), while the others took part in an education programme control group.
The women in the art therapy group participated in awareness of breathing, awareness of emotion, mindful yoga, and walking, which was coupled with art that allowed them to express themselves and use the medium as a coping strategy.
Dr Monti’s study, which is published in the journal Stress and Health, found that after eight weeks, the women in the MBAT group experienced changes in brain activity that were linked to lower stress and anxiety. Answering the 90-item symptom checklist a second time also showed improvements in anxiety scores.