Think Positive (Avoid Worrying about Worrying) During and After Treatment

I am a giant black hole of emotional need right now. My hobbies include drugs (prescribed by the doctor), napping (i don’t sleep well at night due to the hot flashes caused by the Tamoxifen they have me take), and writing in this blog on my breast cancer journey or points of interest dealing with breast cancer. Wanna be my friend?

I thought long and hard about the title of this entry…hesitated over the thinking positive part. It’s not always necessary or easy to think positive during treatment, or even afterward, for that matter. Nevertheless, trying to stay emotionally balanced is an important goal. But then again remember we are on hormone blockers which mess with our emotions. Plus our bodies have been mutilated, and because of this, a lot of us have lost all self esteem. Some of us are lucky to have a Godly man that does love us unconditionally, but then there are those who’s man ignores, neglects, and leaves. Our life has been completely turned upside down and inside out.

I am an optimist at heart. However, it’s not always easy to always be optimistic during cancer treatment. So, rather than advise people to “think positive” which can tend to trivialize a very difficult experience and often ends up sounding like a cliche’, what I suggest is that you try and do things that release stress for you. Nurturing and positive thinking can help support physical and psychological healing, while negative emotions cause physiologic reactions in our bodies that actually slow and impede physical recovery.

I know just how intertwined physical and emotional healing really is. Anyone who is a cancer survivor has found there is a strong link between their mind and body. Meaning that if you use some strategies to support your psychological health, you’ll likely function physically at a higher level (and visa versa).

There is a lot of bad news that each of us have to hear as cancer patients. From the minute of diagnosis onward. And there are many times that we have to listen to things that are hard to hear. Our brain takes in this bad news in various ways, and most certainly affects our mood and ability to cope. To make matters worse, all of us are constantly inundated with negative information that causes stress.

If you surf the internet, turn on the TV, or listen to the radio; what we read or hear is mostly upsetting and even tragic. Cancer survivors need to actively work at feeding their brains positive messages. Nurturing your mind and body as much as possible. This means that to balance out the bad news that you hear. It’s important to feed your brain some good news. Pull out your bible, look up verses that encourage hope, faith and courage to move forward. Listen to music that is upbeat and provides a healing message.

Limit or avoid alcohol. Eat a well rounded diet that is low in fat. Share your feelings with trusted family, friends, or your pastor. Consider joining a support group. Exercise daily and/or practice meditation to help with relaxation. Commune with nature. Pray. Educate yourself about your diagnosis and how you can best help yourself. Keep a journal. Keep your daily activities as normal as possible. Continue hobbies that give you pleasure. Set limits with family, friends and co-worker about what you are able to do. Combat frustration and sad feelings with positive outlets that help you focus on healing. Avoid self blame.

Let go of some of your worry by accepting that you are stressed. After all, cancer isn’t easy, and you have every reason to be worried. And instead of worrying about being stressed, make a plan to do things every day to help you relax.

There have been numerous studies that work to determine just how much of an impact the power of positive thinking can have on a person’s physical health. Whether that person is perfectly healthy or fighting a deadly disease, the general correlation between being “upbeat” and a person’s ability to get and stay healthy are fairly consistent.

When it comes to living with cancer, patients of all ages have long been encouraged to try and keep a positive attitude as the effects are evident as they go about their day-to-day activities and undergo the (often times) rigorous treatment schedules that have been laid out for them. It’s certainly not easy to keep a smile on your face when you’re feeling ill from treatments or enduring other adverse side effects. It can be even harder when dealing with people who simply don’t understand what you’re going through.

While there are many pitfalls that can prevent you from keeping your attitude elevated, studies have shown that people who focus on the positive things have an easier time of managing their treatment plans and enduring the side effects than those who don’t.

During the journey, there will be a number of things that will come up that threaten your happier outlook, but we have found that there are five common sources that should be watched carefully and tend to directly impact your attitude.

People that just don’t understand. Most people mean well, but unless they’ve actually been through your situation, they will never truly understand. This isn’t a bad thing but it can be problematic if they say things without thinking and inadvertently hurt others through a careless remark, or if they avoid you because of their own fears. Statements like “it’ll be ok,” “Aren’t you scared,” “Some things were just meant to happen,” and “Just pick yourself up” are harmless remarks, but don’t necessarily feel that way when they’re spoken at the wrong time. Remember that they most likely didn’t intend to be callous and that they are trying their best to be supportive. You can’t control what anyone else says to you but you can absolutely control how you react to what is said.

Your own fears. Without a doubt, fear is a dangerous mental toxin that can completely take over your mind if left unchecked. Cancer patients know fears that most people never dream of and it can be overwhelming to try and face them on your own. Don’t keep fears inside. Share your fears with trained professionals and other positive people in your support network who can help you keep them in check and keep them from running your life.

Exhaustion. Not getting enough sleep (and not feeling rested) can prey on a person until they crumble. One of the leading causes of anxiety is lack of sleep and not feeling rested and alert can lead to poor decisions and negatively affect your mood. Be sure that you’re getting enough rest, not only to help your treatment plan be effective, but to help your mood stay up during the process.

Poor diet and nutrition. Many studies around mental and emotional health concerns have shown that a proper diet can impact your mood in positive ways. When you eat junk food your body can react negatively in a variety of ways including “low” feelings that you can’t quite shake, drowsiness, and headaches or “sugar hangovers.” Having a healthy diet full of nutritional foods can help you maintain more of a balance when it comes to your mood.

Lack of exercise. Just like getting plenty of rest and eating a balanced diet can help you in numerous ways, your body craves movement and reacts accordingly whenever you exercise. You don’t need to get a personal trainer or become a physical instructor at your gym to make your body happy. Start with a walk around the block and go from there.

Your mood is often the first line of defense you have against a health-related downward spiral. The more importance and value you put on keeping a positive attitude, the more you can benefit from it when it comes to your physical health.

Meditation using guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation or a host of other mind-body strategies that facilitate relaxation and decrease your body’s stress response. Many cancer survivors develop the habit of meditating or using other mind-body strategies and often use them for the rest of their lives.

A gratitude journal might seem a little strange in the beginning, but in fact this may be precisely the right time to start one. Consider reflecting on positive experiences, feelings, and relationships in your life. Things that bring you joy, despite having cancer. Before bed or sometime during the day when you have a few minutes, write about something your are grateful for. Begin to pay attention to pleasant sights, sounds and experiences.

A mindful walk is a good example of exercising with relaxation in mind. As you move and breathe rhythmically, be aware of the sensations of your body. Gradually expand your awareness to the sights and smells around your. Notice the freshly mowed grass, flowers, tress, fallen leaves, dappled sun, or gray clouds. How does the air feel against your skin. Alternate a brisk pace that pushes your limits with a slower pace is calming and energizing in equal parts.

Try a Mini-Relaxation technique. Lay flat and place your hand beneath your navel so you can feel the gentle rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. Breathe in slowly. Pause for a count of three. Continue to breathe deeply for one minute, pausing for a count of three after each inhalation and exhalation. Or count down slowly from 10 to zero. With each number, take a deep breathe saying “10” to yourself. Breathe out slowly. On your next breathe, say “nine” and so on. If you feel light headed, count more slowly to space your breaths further part. When you reach zero, you should feel more relaxed. If not, go through the exercise again.

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