Blessings for the New Year to you all. The holidays can be a wonderful time, but also a stressful time of the year. Dealing with cancer and the holidays is doubly stressful. Energy levels may not be normal, finances may be an issue, family emotions all over the place. You might feel even more drained than usual. It is 2015 and the time to practice de-stressing is now. It is a New Year’s resolution crucial to our physical and emotional well-being.
The following are ten de-stressing suggestions based on work by Melissa Eisler. Melissa is the Senior Content Strategist and Lead Editor at the Chopra Center. She is passionate about her work and, among other interests, she teaches meditation and yoga to kids and families in the oncology ward at Rady’s Children’s Hospital. As a survivor, I have added my experiences to each suggestion.
10 Ways to De-stress Your Mind and Body
There’s good stress … and then there’s bad stress. Do you know the difference? And how are you dealing with yours? It’s important to be aware of what stresses you out, so you can build a relationship with your biggest stressors and manage the way you react to them.
Some stress is healthy … it kicks in to protect you in times of need and gives you a sense of focus when you’re about to take a test or give a presentation. It motivates you to rise to the occasion. And in times of emergency, stress can actually save your life.
Then there is the type of stress that is harmful. It can cause physical, mental, and emotional aches and pains. It can cause your body and mind to overreact to situations, resulting in digestive problems, weight fluctuation, heart disease, depression, and a host of other issues that no one desires or deserves.
It’s time to manage the good, the bad, and the ugly faces of stress in your life. Here are 10 tried-and-true ways to manage your stress.
Number 1: Identify Your Stress Triggers
Recognizing the triggers to your stressful reactions is an important first step in managing your stress. True, it might be impossible to remove life’s stresses, but understanding the things that stress you out—and in what ways—is particularly helpful in solving the underlying problems.
What stresses you out? And how do you react to it? There are a host of physical and mental reactions to stress, and everyone reacts differently. Understanding how it manifests in your life is the first step to finding balance.
Life’s normal stresses don’t stop because we get cancer. We have to deal with all of life’s normal stressors plus the additional stressors that come with cancer. The particular cancer-related stressors and triggers that you are dealing with right now depend on where you are in the cancer journey. Each phase has its own stressors, but some stressors common to all phases are generally fear or a “free-floating” sense of anxiety, sleep disturbances, and hypervigilance. I’ve found that I need to own what I’m feeling, know that it is a normal reaction to the stress of cancer and then work to find my balance. Over time I have been attempting to make peace with my fear of recurrence. When fear rears its ugly head, I try to acknowledge it and be compassionate toward it. Evidently it is a part of me, so I might as well accept it. In this way, I can “breathe into it” and acknowledge that it is there, then attempt to focus on positive thoughts. Many times the fear is caused, not by something substantial, but by something I’ve read or seen on TV; some type of trigger for my memory starts my mind focusing on the negatives, or what ifs. By “breathing into” the fear, acknowledging that for that moment in time I am feeling fearful because of something in the past or something that might be in the future, I can bring myself back to the present and focus on gratitude.
Number 2: Get Some Exercise
Moving your body is important to combat stressful reactions, and prevent them from arising in the future. No matter what your fitness level may be, the central key is simply to move your body every day. Identifying the type or types of exercise that will be possible within your treatment regimen is key to developing a regular exercise routine. Make sure that you check with your doctor before beginning any type of exercise. I found that gentle seated yoga was helpful. BreastCancerAuthority/BreastCancerYoga provides wonderful gentle yoga to assist with the healing process of body and mind.
Number 3: Find Stillness Every Day
Meditation is one of the best tools you have to counteract stress, and your brain’s bias to hold onto negativity. Cancer survivors often have a “loop” of negative thoughts to combat on a daily basis.
In meditation, your body actually releases stress and reverses the effects of the flight-or-fight response. This response was really intended to be a short-term mechanism to protect you from perceived danger, which rarely comes in handy nowadays. And the stress generated within you from the response can be harmful to your health.
A few additional benefits of meditation are: decreased blood pressure and hypertension, decreased cholesterol levels, more efficient oxygen use by the body, increased production of the anti-aging hormone DHEA, and restful sleep.
Number 4: Eat Well
Nourishing your body with the right food will give you the energy you need to tackle what life brings you, including stress.
Every body has different nutritional requirement. If you’re stressed out, what you’re eating is a great thing to look at as stress can be triggered by different foods. It’s important to make conscious eating choices. Many of the Breast Cancer sites provide nutritional information that is recommended during treatment and ever after.
Number 5: Sleep to Combat Stress
Are you getting enough Zzzz’s? Restful sleep is an essential key to staying healthy and strong. When you’re well-rested, you can approach stressful situations more calmly, yet sleep is so often neglected or underemphasized. Sleep disturbances can be a normal reaction to the trauma of a breast cancer diagnosis and all that follows. It is important to make sure that you’re not only getting enough sleep, but that the quality of sleep you’re getting is restful and restorative. If this is an on-going problem, speak with your oncologist. Light exercise and meditation assist with obtaining quality sleep, but if you just can’t seem to handle it on your own, there are medications available to assist with sleep/anxiety problems, at least on a temporary basis.
Number 6: Hit the Road
Taking annual vacations is really good for you. Check with your doctor,a vacation may actually be necessary for good health.
But multi-week, exotic getaways aren’t always an option with the many responsibilities that come with life (or within the cancer experience). Whether we have the time and money to head out on a European tour, or can simply afford a long weekend that’s close to home, planning a break is a great tool for reducing stress. Plus, it gives you something to look forward to. On a personal note, my husband and I went to a Broadway show and spent the night in Manhattan a couple weeks after my first chemo treatment. I remember seeing the show Mama Mia and I had moments of pure happiness where I forgot that I was losing my hair and going through chemo treatments.
Number 7: Create a Gratitude Practice
Gratitude is a powerful force that you can use to expand your happiness, improve your health, and—you guessed it—helps you cope with stress.
Many scientific studies, including research by renowned psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, have found that people who consciously focus on gratitude, experience greater emotional wellbeing and physical health than those who don’t.
I start every day with a prayer of gratitude and it can be helpful to keep a gratitude journal. Many recommend writing five things that you are thankful for each day. It took me a while to learn that the things you write in your gratitude journal don’t have to be momentous. Challenge yourself to be thankful for all the little things that enhance your life: a warn cozy bed, that first morning cup of coffee or tea, the smile of your child, that phone call from a friend just when you needed it. These are all things for which to give thanks. I also read in Real Simple magazine that keeping a Success Journal can be beneficial. I hadn’t thought of that before, but I liked the idea. Every night before going to bed, write down four triumphs from your day. Again, doesn’t have to be something momentous: perhaps you were able to turn a negative thought into a positive thought with gratitude, or perhaps you were able to take a short walk and enjoy the air, or maybe you were able to leave the breakfast dishes in the sink and take a much needed nap. You get the picture. The important component of a Gratitude journal and a Success Journal is self-acknowledgement of the many good things in your life and your many successes.
Number 8: Create Cushions in Your Calendar. You probably have a busy schedule, which is one contributor to stress. When you have a lot on your plate, you end up hurrying through the day and multitasking, which will only exacerbate stress levels.
Creating cushions in your schedule is a good tactic to reduce your risk for stress. Leave yourself enough time between getting from point A to point B—whether getting to and from meetings, or getting from home to work to dinner plans, or from doctor appointments…to help diffuse potential stressors that may arise that are out of your control. For example, if you know that you have to be on time to your 9 a.m. meeting and it takes you 20 minutes to get to work, leave yourself 30 minutes so you don’t have to rush or get stressed out if you hit traffic. Be honest with your boss regarding treatment schedules. My radiation schedule was 8:00 a. m. which was the time I was to begin work. I was able to schedule my radiation geographically close to work and was only 1/2 hour late for my normal work time, which I was able to make up at the end of the day.
Number 9: Say Cheese
No one can deny the mind-body connection. But how much power does the body have over the mind?
Research has found that even a phony smile can help you handle stress. So if you’re looking for a way out of stress, you’ll need to smile more. I love to laugh and have always used humor to get through tough situations. My husband is somewhat of a comedienne and he accompanied me to all my chemo treatments. He had me and surrounding chemo patients laughing through each treatment. Laughter truly is great medicine.
Number 10: Stop Should-ing Yourself
Do you do things in your life because you want to … or because you should? Are you paying attention to the signs the universe is sending you and the guidance you feel deep in your soul? Because we’re so full of ideas and judgments about what we should and shouldn’t do, we tend to ignore the best advice we get—the guidance from our soul. Quiet that negative “heckler” inside your head; be kind to yourself, nurture yourself as you would your best friend. Give yourself a nurturing gift: a massage (if permitted by your doctor), a facial, quiet time just for you with nature, or whatever nurtures peace within you.
Blessings. I enjoy your e-mails, so please feel free to e-mail me with any thoughts or questions at Karenfb22@yahoo.com. Please be sure to write Breast Cancer Coping in your subject line. Sometimes the e-mails are sent to my spam, but I check the subject lines before I delete.