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.
How can we finally rid ourselves of the emotional baggage that fear brings us and free up our minds to think about the good stuff?
I have to brag on how great I am at thinking about letting go of stuff that is weighing me down. The physical stuff—old clothes, books and all the material things that don't bring me joy— I can get rid of in a heartbeat. The mental stuff—the anxiety, fears, worries, etc.—I talk a big talk but never quite rid myself of these things. I'll carry fears with me from years ago, including worries and concerns I had long before cancer. I am really good at thinking about things that are so far in the past that the past has even forgotten about them. It's human nature, sort of, but it can be an extreme detriment to our lives going forward. So, how do we get rid of these emotional bags of fear and free up our minds to think about the good stuff?
In all fairness, I am not all that sure. I have been taking the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach and, well, that hasn't really worked. Everything I have ever wanted to let go of follows me around on a massive baggage cart. I've tried the approach of just saying, "I think I will let go of stuff this year." Here goes the buzzer sound loud and clear—that approach has not worked at all. I now have a baggage handler accompanying me daily because the bags keep piling up.
So, this year, I have got to take a different approach. I've decided to lay out a plan. I love to jot thoughts down. I love to plan things out. And one of my favorite tools is a paper planner. I don't think I could ever take that digital. My thought this year is: if I write down thoughts on letting go and maybe even put together a strategy, can I actually let go? Only the year will tell, but here is what my plan entails.
STEP 1 - WRITE IT OUT. I have tons of fears, worries and anxieties. Some are about big things like cancer and the what-ifs that surround it. I have little fears, like what happens if my cat doesn't use the litter box? Or will I have a date for an upcoming wedding? How does one keep all these fears in check and then worry about the issues that have legitimate meaning behind them? Well, I write it down. For starters, that just gets it out of my head and makes it someone else's problem—the paper now owns that fear. Using that mentality definitely helps to just release those worries.
STEP 2 - USE A HABIT TRACKER. These have become quite popular, especially in daily/weekly planners, notebooks, etc. You write out a habit you either want to break or start and give yourself a little box each day to check it off. In regard to letting go of fears, you can take this approach in two ways. First, you can use the tracker to track the days you didn't worry and give yourself a lovely checkmark for those days that the fears and anxiety stayed at bay. Or you can use it as a tracker for all the days you did in fact worry. If you have a lot of checkmarks there, it will be a nice visual for you to see how much time is actually spent on those worries and fears.
STEP 3 - TALK IT OUT. If you feel comfortable, talk out what you are trying to let go of with someone you trust. That can be a friend, family member, husband, wife, therapist, etc. I find that talking out what is bothering me just helps me feel better. However, talking out what you are letting go of can also add a bit of accountability to your goal. Now someone else knows what your plan is and hopefully they can help you stay on track as well.
There are lots of options to pursue in order to try and let go of whatever is dragging you down. Sitting here writing about it is the easy part. It is in fact a very hard task to complete. So, whatever and whichever way you pursue the idea of letting go, be sure to give yourself a break as you go. Chances are these thoughts, fears and worries have been hanging around you for a long time, so they are not going to be all that easy to get rid of. Give yourself a break. Take your time. Experiment with different ideas. Just stick with it.