“Get out of your head.”
Those were the words a fellow cancer survivor and friend chided in a recent conversation. I was surprised at her bluntness. We’d been discussing the future, sharing concerns about our health and making tit-for-tat comparisons. When I asked what she’d meant when she told me to get out of my head, I received the response, “You’re thinking too much about things, things that don’t really matter.” I wondered how she could say that. Didn’t she understand that with cancer, everything mattered?
I’d shared with her that I was struggling. My mind was being assaulted daily with endless thoughts all related to cancer. When I wasn’t thinking about the stack of medical bills in our bill basket, I was wondering if that stabbing pain over my left eye meant cancer had returned and was now in my brain. Random thoughts would pop into my mind throughout the day and no matter what I did, I couldn’t help but feel consumed with worry. I realized, after talking with my friend, I was definitely stuck in my head and I needed a way to get out.
I knew I wasn’t the first or the only one to get stuck in my head. People have a tendency to get stuck in their heads all the time. Some of us struggle with it more than others. And while it’s nice to be introspective, many of our thoughts aren’t always positive ones. For the person with cancer, thoughts can come so rapidly that it’s difficult to process them one at a time.
There are many concerns associated with cancer. Anxiety, fear, loss, grief and even depression are just a few of the feelings that can bombard a mind and create a constant barrage of ideas. All of these compounded can make it difficult to focus. The mind may wander and wander often. And when the mind wanders continually, a person may have a tendency to be unhappy.
The mind is a complicated and unique component of our being. The thoughts we believe can affect our lives in either a positive or a negative way. For the person who’s experienced a physical trauma – such as receiving a diagnosis of cancer – learning to master negative thoughts can contribute to a healthier and happier mind. For those who tend to stay in their heads, it’s a scary place to be.
One of the ways a person can tame thoughts is to acknowledge them. Instead of having a cluttered mind like a big bowl of tangled spaghetti, it’s beneficial to compartmentalize those thoughts. Taking a thought captive; a person can ruminate over it, give it validity, process it, release it and move forward. By stopping and paying attention to the thought, a person can try to determine what caused the thought and how it affects the body. By taking time to observe, the thought may be easily disarmed and seem to have less power.
But sometimes it’s necessary to include others in the process.
Getting out of one’s head may require the assistance of family and/or friends. By openly sharing, a person with cancer can allow themselves the freedom to acknowledge his/her feelings, receive valuable input from others and discuss ways to move ahead.
When getting out of your head is challenging, sometimes thinking about others is helpful. Instead of thinking internally, a person can think externally. Shifting the focus from self-centered thinking, the person with cancer may find ways to help others.
And one of the best ways to get out of your head may be practicing the art of mindfulness. Mindfulness has become a wonderful form of self-therapy for those with cancer. By learning to focus on being present, a person can maintain a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations. Mindfulness involves paying attention to thoughts and feelings without judgment.
Getting out of your head may take some practice, but it is doable. And remember, every thought or doubt that enters the mind isn’t necessarily true.
Our minds are constantly in the process of sending and receiving thoughts. Those thoughts, if left unchecked, can contribute to feelings of depression and despair. The power to control the mind belongs to the person, not the other way around.
Get out of your head and enjoy life. It’s too wonderful to stay cooped up in such a small space.