UK Spa Association
School of Natural Therapies discuss Mental Health
October saw once again, Mental Health Awareness week; important dates for us to remember as industry professionals and operators; it is vital that we understand as many aspects of mental health as we can.
In our work as international oncology educators, we are aware of the relevance of mental health in relation to those who are undergoing cancer treatment, and who have completed that chapter of their lives, but still live with long term side effects of treatment such as pain, numbness, tingling, tightness, lymphoedema, sleep disruption, anxiety and depression.
It is vital to be aware of the emotional impact as well as the physical stuff and new studies have shown that people going through cancer treatment or with a history of cancer often experience a condition known as PTS (Post Traumatic Stress), not to be confused with PTSD which is well known to us and generally considered more challenging longer term.
Needless to say, receiving a diagnosis of cancer in and of itself is stressful but the inevitable treatments involved cause upheaval to everyday life. Suddenly daily schedules are put on hold as appointments are made, tests are performed, and results are waited for with bated breath.
Sometimes the tests are painful and uncomfortable, cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy have unpleasant side effects too - so the thoughts of being poked and prodded, waiting for hours while chemotherapy is administered, or having to hold your breath while radiation is directed at a particular part of the body may lead to increased feelings of anxiety and stress.
But there can also be extended symptoms of anxiety, sleeplessness, dark thought patterns and worry about the future, as we can doubtless imagine; this is the essence of PTS.
A cancer diagnosis may trigger any number of responses; the initial moment one is told that they have a cancer diagnosis may come as a huge shock moment for many, and for which they are unprepared.
For some, this often-dramatic moment can trigger, what we classify as and UDIN moment – what does this mean?
An UDIN moment describes an event which is:
- No mental preparedness, or an immediate strategy to deal with this event are available at that exact moment, when receiving a cancer diagnosis.
This UDIN moment can have a profound effect on ongoing thought patterns, such as fear of the future, how the family will be affected- the list may go on.
Aside from this initial diagnosis, other stressful events that repeat or continue over time can also lead to PTS.
For example, a taste, a sound, even the touch of something can be triggering; a smell that reminds them of a hospital treatment room; a clunking sound, similar to that of the radiotherapy machine operating during their treatment, a particular odour, reminiscent of a cream that was prescribed at a time when they were in active cancer treatment.
Without robust mental health screening and appropriate mental health interventions, these triggers can be active, weeks, months, even years down the line.
What can we do to take care of our clients with compromised mental and physical health?
First and foremost, we can create a safe and welcoming environment for our vulnerable guests. We can ensure we greet them warmly and openly with a thorough consultation allowing enough time to agree a bespoke treatment plan developed for the unique needs of every client.
The knowledge and science behind massage and touch therapies is increasing for us as therapists and spa operators.
Specific massage techniques have been shown to induce the relaxation response and reduce anxiety.
Long effleurage strokes help to sedate the central nervous system while neurovascular holds bring comfort and connection.
We can play a significant part in this healing process and the gift of gentle touch is essential to this end. The sooner the client can receive therapeutic touch the sooner their body can switch off or sedate some of the body’s neural pathways, thereby reducing the risk of anxiety and supporting their mental health.
Authors: - Marc Innes, Christine Clinton & Joseph O’Dwyer