Four tips to mitigate anxiety in cancer survivorship
July 16, 2016
I want to talk about anxiety within the cancer surviving community and share four strategies that I have used to combat it in myself. I suffered with severe anxiety when I went into remission with no idea that what I was experiencing was normal, common, and even to be expected. If you struggle with anxiety in survivorship, you are not alone—in fact, you might be the majority.
For about four months following my remission I felt like I had a massive knot chronically tightening in my stomach. I was 17, had never experienced anxiety before, and had no idea what I was up against. And when you don’t know what anxiety is, it can be incredibly hard to articulate what you are experiencing. I remember sitting in my living room with one of my best friends—one that had been an incredible support to me throughout my treatments—wondering why I felt like there was such a barrier between us. I couldn’t connect. It was like I had come from this high of support and validation I had during treatments and was thrown back into the world expected to be “normal” again. And I crashed. Of course I was struggling. Of course I was in shock. Of course it was hard to go back to high school after fighting for survival for the last year. And yet I felt like I shouldn’t be struggling. I should just be grateful to be alive. I should be “normal” again. And no-one knew to tell me otherwise.
That is why I am writing this post. I didn’t expect people to know I was struggling when I didn’t know how to communicate it. That would be unfair. They didn’t stop loving me, they just didn’t know the trials this next chapter in my journey would bring. For this reason I am talking directly to the cancer community. I want to let you know that if you are experiencing any symptoms of anxiety, I know how you feel, and you are not alone. But unfortunately, other people, including myself, can’t take away your pain. However, I can suggest some tips that I would recommend to mitigate anxiety.
1. Color breathe
I have adopted and modified this breathing method that has helped me tremendously. To start, get into a comfortable position—I usually lay on my back. Before you begin, visualize yourself—in whatever position you chose—and watch yourself breathe. Now choose a color that looks and feels calm or peaceful to you and a color that resembles pain or stress (I have always used a light blue for peace and a deep red for pain). Now visualize yourself inhaling the peaceful color. Watch it flow through your body and target the pain. Visualize the areas of your body that are experiencing pain as the corresponding color. Watch the color of peace replace the color of pain, and visualize yourself exhaling the painful color. Repeat this process with deep filling breaths, inhaling the peaceful color and exhaling the painful color, until your body is only filled with the peaceful color. At this point you should be inhaling and exhaling that color only. The peace will be all consuming, and the pain released.
Watch as your body chemistry changes with this method. It takes practice to be able to focus on and visualize the process, but in time it can become an incredibly useful strategy to let go of pain.
2. Reach out
Call someone, talk to your partner, talk to your parents, talk to a sibling—find someone that you feel safe with and tell them you are struggling. You don’t need to talk much if you don’t want to but just get out of your head and connect to someone. When we are anxious we have a tendency to isolate ourselves, which is actually the worst thing we can do in this condition. It is easier to spiral when we are alone with our thoughts and feeling anxious. Get out of your head, and reach out.
3. Get outside
Getting out of your house, even if it is just standing on your front porch, helps bring back some perspective. There is something about the fresh air and the big world that helps to get you out of your head. It expands your mind, which is crucial when you are backing yourself into corners and catastrophic thinking. When you feel yourself spiraling, get outside.
4. Practice yoga
Yoga has been LIFE CHANGING for me. I can’t say enough about it. It is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice that helps me to connect to myself, and to a higher power. It is so good for your mind to have an active body, and so good for your body to have a healthy mind. Yoga slows you down, focuses your breathing, and brings awareness to your body. It is such a wonderful practice. If you can’t get to a class, there are countless yoga flows that you can find on the interwebs! I upload some on my youtube channel as well.
Anyway, to anyone that is struggling with anxiety, I guarantee that if you are able to implement these strategies and practice them, they will change your life. We are all accountable for our own happiness, but I hope I can help ease any burdens that have been placed on the cancer surviving community.