Why Are We So Overwhelmed?


A cancer survivor explains why those of us who face cancer and now COVID-19 feel the way we do when confronting an ongoing crisis.

I think every one of us feels overwhelmed these dark days during this difficult year.

Every one of us has a personal story of struggle. I have several friends who have had awful things happen to them. Some have been diagnosed with cancer, others have had painful surgeries and still others have lost loved ones during this pandemic, and are unable to have memorial services or closure. Many people are going hungry, lost their jobs and are food insufficient. Children don’t know from one day to the next whether the school is in-person or remote, and parents have to face difficult decisions no one should ever have to make.

I have been fortunate not to deal with the tragedies many people have. Nevertheless, I find myself tiring more easily and needing to take naps. I feel sad and lethargic. I have constant anxiety and insomnia and I found some tips that helped me to understand why.

Most of us have taken at least one psychology class and we remember that reaction to any type of danger or stress or trauma is to fight, freeze or flee. Pure adrenaline which protects us during times of danger causes physiological changes such as a beating heart, fast breathing, increased blood pressure and other medical symptoms. When the initial crisis is over, our bodies slowly return to a normal heartbeat, breaths and blood pressure.

In many crises such as tornadoes, wildfires and hurricanes the danger may last, at the most, a few days. I am not talking about cleanup, which is another subject, but we are not in constant danger.Whereas, with COVID-19, we have gone for months with wondering if we will be exposed, not knowing when the crisis will end, and constant reminders, such as everyone wearing masks, that this is very real.

Then I look at cancer survivors. We experience the initial diagnosis and treatment, but eventually go back to a semi normal. However, the anxiety and dread of treatment and possible recurrence for some are always there just like with COVID. Now everyone in the world is experiencing what we already knew from facing our disease.

Go easy on yourself just like you did when first diagnosed with cancer.I am an overachiever, and still feel guilty for sleeping too long and taking naps. I did this daily during treatments and now with COVID-19, I just retreat to my bed. It is a natural and healthy reaction. Even more insight is presented by the wise Dalai Lama – “Sleep is the best meditation.”

So whether it is a response to cancer, other traumas or COVID-19, go ahead and sleep and meditate. Our bodies and minds will thank us for it!

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