4 Ways to Reduce Your Anxiety Right Now
Anxiety is a very common side effect for many cancer survivors. Different people experience it in varying degrees of severity and what triggers may be unique to each person. Within the general cancer experience there are, however, some common thoughts and situations that can escalate feelings of anxiousness quickly. Read on for a Cancer Coach’s go-to methods for managing anxiety after diagnosis.
Being diagnosed with cancer changes everything.
As nurse practitioner Jan Perun says, “You can’t unring the bell.” When my late husband was diagnosed with cancer, anxiety became an everyday occurrence, especially when it came to “scanxiety” – a term well known in the cancer community. Scanxiety is anxiety brought on by the anticipation and/or process of going through a scan or test at various times including diagnosis, during treatment, and as part of follow up care in survivorship. Anxiety can last far into survivorship, and even though resources have been mandated by the Commission on Cancer and recommended by the Institute of Medicine, there is still a lack of resources and the slow implementation of distress screenings and survivorship care plans. This can feel as though cancer-related anxiety often goes unaddressed and unnoticed.
So, what are some strategies to overcome anxiety? As a cancer coach, I’ve been able to outline a few tips to help my clients overcome it. First and foremost, if you are dealing with ongoing, debilitating anxiety, speak to your medical provider. For your day-to-day routine, however, here are some tips and steps to consider making part of your survivorship toolkit:
1. Connect and release.
Connect to the part or parts of your body where you feel the anxiety the most and take the following steps to create more ease:
- Ask yourself, ‘where in my body do I feel this?’ It’s common to feel tension in the abdomen, chest, and/or neck/shoulder area. The phrase, ‘feeling butterflies in my stomach,’ describes the common sensation of experiencing a lack of ease, stress, and anxiousness. Awareness is the first step to being able to change how you are experiencing something.
- Breathe into the part of your body where you are feeling anxious. Taking long, slow, deep breaths in and out while focusing on the distressed area can help to release the tension.
- Ask yourself, ‘where in my body do I feel a sense of peace and ease?’ Place one hand on this area and one on the area you identified in Step 1 where you are feeling anxious. Focus on drawing the peaceful feeling into the area where you are feeling anxious and allow it to fill that space while releasing the anxiety since it is not serving you well.
2. Change your thoughts.
Notice what thought or thoughts you may be focusing on. Ask yourself, ‘what is a different thought I would prefer to focus on right now that brings me greater peace?’ For example, if you are fearful of the outcome of an upcoming scan or appointment, instead, replace those fearful thoughts with a statement such as, ‘I am supported by loving family and friends who will get me through no matter what the outcome’ or ‘It is best for my body to remain calm and peaceful.’
3. Stay in the now.
Often, anxiety is created by focusing on what we fear may happen in the future, sometimes informed by something that went a certain way in the past. Ask yourself, ‘right now, in this moment, what are the facts – what do I know?’ While you may have a scan scheduled, the fact is you do not have the test results in hand.
4. Plan ahead.
Work out your ‘what if’ strategies. What if, for example, your results come back great? How will you celebrate? Conversely, what if they come back and you have an issue that needs addressing with either further testing or follow up treatment? What would your plan be? What list of questions can you prepare in advance for both scenarios? Who might you want with you for support? Having a plan in place in advance typically helps to reduce anxiety.
As Viktor Frankl said, “When we cannot change our circumstances, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Stocking your survivor toolkit with strategies you can use is a great way to be ready to make changes that empower you and help you feel more at ease.
How do you manage your anxiety? When do you feel it come on? Tell us in the comments below!