10 Ways to Rebuild Your Emotional Lifestyle
Worry. Anxiety. Depression. Loss of hope. Not only are these emotions hard to experience, studies show that they contribute to a slower recovery from cancer treatment. The following tips might just help you stay positive when life looks bleak.
1. Nothing lasts forever. Your chemo will be over in 4 months. Radiation lasts 6 weeks. You’ll be off hormone drugs in 5 years. Whatever type of cancer treatment is giving you grief, realize that in almost all cases, it won’t last forever.
Here’s a little mental exercise that’s often helped me over the hump. Say to yourself, “How will I feel a year from now?”
Better, right? You’ll be past chemo and radiation, back to your normal schedule.
Then say, “How will I feel in 6 months?”
Better – done with chemo, probably done with radiation.
“How will I feel in 3 months? In 6 weeks? Next month?”
Drill down to the point where you’re beyond your current experience. “In 2 months I’ll be done with chemo. WOW, that’ll be a relief! OK, I can get through 2 months of this, knowing that at the end I’ll start feeling better.”
Seems too simple, but trust me – it works.
2. Time heals. The misery of cancer treatment is unavoidable. You can’t jump over it, walk around it, or fly past it – you have to slog your way through it. But know that every step you take is a step towards the finish line. Every minute that passes, you’re 1 minute closer to the ultimate goal: feeling better. Getting back to normal.
Time, in its simple inexorability, is your friend.
3. Worry usually isn’t reality; it’s emotion.
Think about it: Does worrying about your hair falling out change the experience even one iota? No. All it does is make you feel bad.
Worry often gets the best of you when you’re most vulnerable – lying awake at 2 a.m. Try to talk yourself down off that ledge. “Am I REALLY likely to have the worst chemo experience ever? No. Realistically, I’m going to be like most women – good days, bad days, whatever, you get through it.”
If worry overtakes you at other times of the day, talk to your BFF (best friend forever), or someone else close to you. Trust me, people want to help. And holding your hand while you unload all those negative thoughts is not only good for you, it’s gratifying for the person you’re with. Worry shared is worry defused; let it all out.
4. Reading statistics? Focus on the positive, not the negative. So your doctor tells you your recurrence risk is 16%. SIXTEEN PERCENT! Holy mackerel, that’s HIGH! I have a 16% chance of this cancer coming back?!
Yes, you do. You also have an 84% chance of this cancer NOT coming back. Of being done with it forever, and dying a peaceful death at age 99.
Which statistic would you rather focus on? Which will make you feel better? Your choice.
5. Spend time with fun people. I have a colleague at work who makes me smile just hearing her voice down the hall, she’s that happy. To be with Ceal is to feel the weight of the world lift off your shoulders. She laughs, giggles, tells funny stories (and everything’s a funny story the way Ceal tells it)… she’s an incredible breath of fresh air.
If you don’t have a Ceal in your life, tune in to NPR on Saturday and listen to Car Talk. While there’s nothing inherently humorous about a flat tire or blown head gasket, the way “Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers” snort and chortle and guffaw, you can’t help but smile (and even laugh) along with them.
Laughter is contagious – “catch it” as often as you can.
6. Give yourself a break on the diet/exercise front. Are you used to a challenging diet and vigorous exercise program? Give up. At least temporarily.
Cut exercise to the point where anything you do is at least semi-enjoyable, not a painful experience to be dreaded. If all you can manage is a walk around the block – fine. Once you’re through treatment you can pick up where you left off. But for now – you’ve got enough misery in your life without feeling guilty about backing off your normal exercise program.
As far as eating, many cancer treatments quell your appetite. If you find yourself mostly uninterested in food, now’s the time to tempt yourself with “forbidden” foods you might have avoided in the past. Ice cream. A cookie or two. Potato chips and dip.
I’m not advising you go crazy here, and embrace a junk-food diet. But depriving yourself of every dietary indulgence, as you probably do on a regular basis, isn’t emotionally helpful during treatment. If you find yourself longing for a hot fudge sundae on Sunday – go for it! Without guilt.
7. Use your mind-body connection to R-E-L-A-X. Meditate. Get a Reiki treatment, a therapeutic massage, or some reflexology. Take a class in yoga, or tai chi. Acupuncture is a proven help for chemo side effects. Simply listening to soothing music can make you feel less tense.
If you haven’t tried any of the therapies mentioned above, don’t be shy. Ask the folks at your cancer center what they offer along these lines; every good cancer center will have a program encompassing at least some of these.
If you’re being treated locally, and your hospital doesn’t have any type of patient-support program covering these modalities, start by going to your local library and checking out a meditation CD. Ask the librarian for help, if you don’t know where to begin. Put your tax dollars to work here for a very good cause – yourself!
8. Treat yourself to something special – you’re worth it.
Did that mastectomy cast a seemingly permanent pall on your body image? Don’t worry, you’ll bounce back. And in the meantime, get a soothing pedicure – sparkly toes are just plain fun, and the accompanying gentle foot massage is delightful.
You know that special vacation you were saving for, the one that had to be cancelled when chemo got in the way? You probably need the money for bills, but save a little bit for a night at a hotel or motel. Getting away from home and the daily routine – if even for a night – feels exotic. And sitting poolside in January (indoors, please!) is just plain fun.
9. Feeling bad? Don’t hold it all in; this is NOT the time for a stiff upper lip. Emotions vented are emotions defused. Putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) is an excellent way to pour out your feelings; my fellow expert, Phyllis Johnson, has posted a wonderful series on dealing with cancer through writing.
Don’t feel like writing? Get in the car (by yourself, please), go for a ride, and SCREAM. Swear. Gather your anger and fear, and shout it out. Yell till you’re hoarse.
There. Don’t you feel better?
10. Exercise! Getting your heart pumping and speeding up your breathing releases natural endorphins –“feel good” hormones – into your bloodstream.
If you can’t exercise the way you’re used to, a brisk walk outdoors is good. There’s something about fresh air and sunshine that naturally brightens your mood.
Stuck in your hospital room? Walk from the bed to the chair and back. Repeat five times. Even the tiniest bit of exercise is better than total inactivity.
WOW. I don’t know about you, but I feel better just having written this. Cheers!
If you find yourself seriously unhappy or depressed, day after day, talk to a professional. Cancer is hard – not only physically, but emotionally. The oncologist can treat your body, but it’s often useful to have someone else treat your mind and soul. Speaking to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other counselor isn’t failure; it’s simple common sense. Do it.