Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools—We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
Sometimes worry is good. It keeps us alert and safe. Other times, we kick into worry overdrive and it is helpful to create a tool bag of ways to calm ourselves.
One of my daughters is a musician who has performed in front of thousands. Long ago, her piano teacher wisely told her what to expect: “Expect your body to betray you every way that it can.” It could be nausea or diarrhea, a headache, stiff neck, trembling, all of the above or other things. Everyone carries tension and stress in their bodies a little bit differently. Once we acknowledge and expect this to happen as we face unknowns as cancer survivors, I think it becomes easier to manage.
Recognizing and accepting that our body may manifest our poor upset feelings is actually the first step to manage and cope with those feelings. It is not something to be freaked out by. It is not something to feel betrayed by. Adrenaline. It is how we are wired for survival. Sometimes I mentally say to my body, “OK, so that is how we are going to play it, eh?” Sometimes when I lean into those feelings a little, my body sometimes backs off—at least a little.
Sometimes worry is good. It keeps us alert and safe. Other times, we kick into worry overdrive and it is helpful to create a tool bag of ways to calm ourselves. Here are some of the calming techniques that help me.
Breathing exercises: This can be as simple as sitting quietly or lying down and focusing on my breathing. Sometimes it just “in…out…in…out” and then when my thoughts inevitably wander, I gently direct them back to the breathing.
Journaling: I don’t journal every day — too structured for me, I guess. I journal when I need to process and organize all the thoughts spinning around in my worry brain. Sometimes it seems like I can reduce the worries in my head by putting them in my journal instead. Sometimes listing my worries, and even repeatedly rereading the list, reduces some of the power those worries try to hold over my head.
Getting out in nature: Even if I can only look out the window, I try to spend several minutes several times per day focusing on nature. I sometimes list what I am seeing or hearing in nature, gently bringing my mind back to that task when it tries to spin off on a different tangent.
Distraction: This can be a wonderful tool whose specifics vary from person to person. What things can you find so absorbing and engrossing to you personally that make the time fly and all other thoughts fade into the background? Is it a favorite movie or television series? Sewing, crocheting, knitting or other kind of craft? Getting lost in a good book?
Honestly, sometimes nothing works. That is part of life, too. We will still get through. We can never appreciate the peaks if we don’t also spend some time down in the valleys. Life is a study in contrast, now please excuse me while a run to the bathroom to find something for this headache that does not want to go away!