By Donna Suckow, Department of Social Work
Patients living with cancer often feel worried, anxious and scared about doctor's visits, follow-up exams or treatment. For some, these feelings can translate into physical symptoms, such as sweaty palms, a racing heart or shortness of breath.
Distressing events in our past sometimes lead to worry about similar events in our future. This is called anticipatory anxiety.
However, by employing coping strategies, seeking helpful support and facing -- not avoiding -- worrisome events, you can overcome your fears.
In fact, many people report finding a renewed sense of strength and a deeper belief in themselves after facing these challenges head on.
Distraction and attraction
Research has shown that many adults and especially children have found "distracting techniques" helpful when facing an anxiety-provoking event. Finding something "attractive" to do helps take the mind off an "unattractive" event, such as chemotherapy or lab work.
The distraction differs from person to person because of activity levels and interests. For example, you may want to listen to a special playlist on an MP3 player, read a good book, watch a movie or play a favorite video game.
Talk to your medical team to see if it's OK to do the activity during your appointment. If so, you will most likely find that you are more relaxed.
If the activity you choose is not feasible, it may be helpful for you to understand the basics of mindfulness and realistic self-talk.
A positive way to engage in self-talk is to focus on your previous successes and things that are in your control.
What has helped you get through life's challenges? Faith? Patience? Stubbornness? A combination of many different things?
It's important to remember that cancer hasn't taken away these personal qualities.
Although the circumstances have changed, the person you are has not. What worked for you in the past to overcome challenges may be helpful now.
It may not always be easy, but focus on the things within your control and give yourself credit for previous successes. This may go a long way in helping you to gain perspective and cope with anticipatory anxiety.
Mindful meditation and relaxation techniques are also effective in the management of cancer-related anxiety. Focus on your breath, slow it down and engage in progressive muscle relaxation.
Seek out a group, an instructor or a good resource to learn more about these techniques, many of which are easy to learn and practice.
Good support and good humor
Have you ever marveled at how quickly time flies while spending an evening laughing with friends or family?
When possible, don't let cancer rob you of these times. Your humor and your support system are important to help you get through stressful events and to maintain hope.
A good joke, a cute cartoon or a harmless prank can be a fun distraction and a way to regain perspective. Laughter can be healing, and a good support system is some of the best medicine.
For more information and support on coping with anticipatory anxiety, please contact your social work counselor or the Department of Social Work at 713-792-6195.