It's early morning. I pad softly across the carpet into my bathroom. I look at myself in the mirror. My hair is disheveled, there are bags under my eyes and I look pretty rough. I could choose to walk away and crawl back under the covers, but I don't.
Today is going to be a good day! I know this because I tell myself that's exactly what's going to happen. Each morning, since diagnosis, I've had to make a conscious decision to change my attitude. Instead of being pessimistic, I've chosen optimism.
Talking to myself has become the norm. Sometimes, I speak out loud and sometimes I whisper encouraging words to myself, inside my head. I've learned that positive reinforcement really works.
It sounds like such a simple thing to do, but telling yourself it's going to be OK provides comfort, and as your brain processes the thought, your body acts accordingly.
When I'm having a particularly difficult day, my positive self-talk is more necessary. Simple words like "You can do it," "Keep going," and "Just a little longer," help immensely.
Breast cancer has left me with a new perspective; I've learned the hard way that it's up to me to decide how best to combat feelings of depression, fatigue and self-loathing.
My husband walked in on me during one of my self-conversations recently. He thought I'd lost it. Standing in the walk in closet, I was telling myself I was doing great and that I was proud of myself. There was no way of telling how long he'd been behind me, but when I finished my soliloquy, he applauded. Turning around in shock and embarrassment, I felt I should curtsy and bow, but I didn't. My face beet red, I asked how long he'd been listening. He responded, "Long enough to figure out what you were doing. I think it's great that you're telling yourself good things. Does it help?"
When I explained my daily pep talk routine, my husband smiled. "I'm so proud of you," he said. "You've been through an awful lot. It's amazing you've found ways to cope."
Combatting negative thoughts with positive ones has worked well for me. If I listened to all the negative thoughts that come screeching through my brain, I'd be curled up in a ball somewhere blubbering like an idiot.
It isn't always easy to talk my way out of a jumble of negativity, but I try. Some days I do better than others.
Cancer has a way of stealing joy by casting negativity and doubt on a life. If we can find a way to overcome, we become the winners. That's why it's so important to choose joy and let optimism grow. Positive thoughts may be foreign at first. They may start out very small, but as you feed yourself encouragement, the hunger for it will grow.
Here are some examples of my self-help pep talks:
Negative thoughts: I'm feeling really rotten today. My arms are swollen, my back hurts and I just don't want to do anything. But then I step into cheerleader mode: You may be feeling rotten, but at least you're feeling! That means you're alive. Cancer could have killed you, but it didn't! Be thankful.
Negative thoughts: I just can't do it. I'm too tired. I just want to give up. Cheerleader mode: You can do it. Just try. Get up. Take one step, then another. If you give up, you give in. Don't you want to survive? And don't you want to do more than just survive? Don't you want to thrive? Sure you do! No one is going to make this happen but you. Just do it.
Self-talk may seem silly, but, according to this article by the Mayo Clinic, there are good health benefits which include:
- Increased lifespan
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
By practicing positive thinking, your outlook will improve and you'll be better able to cope with stress. Don't get discouraged. It takes time to develop a new habit of looking for the positive instead of focusing on the negative. Look in the mirror and tell yourself something good. And if your spouse walks in on you, wait patiently for the applause.