When cancer anxiety strikes and panic begins to build, there a few tools you can keep close to help you combat the fears and regain calmness in your mind again.
Dana Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 32. She is the co-founder of a cancer survivorship organization called The Dragonfly Angel Society. She volunteers as an advocate and mentor, focusing on young adults surviving cancer. She enjoys writing about life as a cancer survivor, as well as connecting survivors to the resources, inspirations and stories that have helped her continue to live her best life, available at www.dragonflyangelsociety.com.
“What calms you?”
This is a question I ask myself nearly every day. Actually, my first thought is usually: What thought, pain or memory will trigger my panic, and how am I going to calm myself down?
My cancer experience has left me with more than just the physical scars. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with PTSD thanks to cancer. I also have constant anxiety which I am sure is a sub-factor of the PTSD. So, now that I know these triggers will happen, I try to find the thought or activity that will calm me down. I have been in therapy for a bit and that helps tremendously, but I can only spend so much time on that couch talking about my fears. So, what to do when it is just my mind and me?
Over time, I have come up with a few pointers that I thought I would share. Sometimes they help and, honestly, sometime they flat out don’t. I like having a tool belt of ideas to go to, so I can at least try to get some relief in my moments of cancer fear domination. Here are a few I start with:
1. Color – Good news! Adult coloring books are all the rage these days, so it is easy to find one that suits your interests. I almost get overwhelmed by the options. I have found a few that work for me. I even found one that has journaling pages along with stuff to color. Double bonus! I can color, which slowly starts to empty my mind of the fears and then I can also write or draw out what is bothering me.
2. Journaling – To go along with the coloring and sometimes side by side with it, I write. Now, it doesn’t have to be perfect writing with perfect word use that you would love for everyone to read. Nope, this writing is whatever you want it to be. Sometimes I just write out words: FEAR, ACCEPT, SCARED, etc. I will write out things like “today the cancer fears are taking over my mind. I had a few aches and I feel the overwhelming need to feel around for any lumps and bumps.” Just writing it out is therapy. It allows me to picture the thoughts and fears leaving my mind and getting out in the open.
3. Mindfulness – This is a tough one and one I am in the process of learning. However, little by little with practice every day, it seems to be starting to work. I am in the process of reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living
. It has given me quite a bit to think about already and I am barely through 100 pages. Learning to sit with the fears, the anxiety and the thoughts is overwhelming at first, but after time and some practice, it doesn’t seem as overwhelming.
In all honesty, I can’t say I am 100 percent there yet, but I love the path I am on to get there. The list above is a work in progress for sure. Sometimes all three work great and there are plenty of other times where I am still stuck freaking out over my cancer anxiety. I wish I could say there is a 100 percent fool-proof method, but I am not sure there is or every will be. Learning to handle and live with the thoughts is hard. No one trains you ahead of a cancer diagnosis on what to do, and there is certainly no training for the emotional aftermath. I am still learning one day at a time what works and what doesn’t for me. The keys are trying out and experimenting with new ideas to see what works. Listen to yourself and hear what others have to say. Somewhere in the mix, you will certainly find a few ideas that will work in calming you.