By Stephen Collazo, Department of Social Work
March is National Social Work Month. While we could toot our own horn, I think the best way to celebrate is to do what social work counselors at MD Anderson do best -- help patients enhance their quality of life and cope with their disease.
What sorts of things might get in the way of patients and families having the best quality of life possible while going through a disease like cancer?
Often times, it's figuring out how to deal with all the stress, fears, feelings of helplessness and constant change of emotions that accompany the cancer experience on a daily basis.
While it's certainly natural to focus on the future and what happens down the road as you or your loved one move through treatment, staying focused on just making it through the day or even the next hour can sometimes help you maintain your sanity.
Getting by "one day at a time" is going to look different to each person.
While I might be more expressive and prefer to talk about my feelings, for others, having to rehash what they've been feeling and experience the stress over again is anxiety inducing in and of itself.
The important thing is figuring out what works for you, how you cope best, and then using those coping tools when needed.
Quick and easy coping tools:
Stop -- Take a moment, close your eyes and shut everything out for 30 seconds. Focus on your breathing and imagine yourself in a safe and comfortable place.
Talk -- Call, talk, text, email, write a friend or loved one, tell them what is stressing you out and fall back on your support system to provide the love and care you rely on. If having to do that is stressful, then say it out loud to yourself or jot it down on a piece of paper.
Do -- Go for a walk, stretch or squeeze on a stress ball. Using physical actions to relieve stress is a proven way to release anxiety. If you're religious, pray or exercise your faith in some way to help center yourself and find peace.
Long-lasting ways to cope:
Stop -- Yoga, guided imagery, music therapy, self-relaxation and acupuncture are all services offered at MD Anderson that can help you slow down, relax and reduce your stress and anxiety.
Do -- Find a hobby or something you can easily fall back on that you already know you enjoy and can easily pick back up whenever the cancer experience becomes too much.
Knowledge is power. Many patients find that learning about their disease, their treatment and its side effects helps them regain a sense of control.
Talk -- Anderson Network and CanCare are services that can match patients with survivors, so you can talk with someone who has been through something similar.
Additionally, there are trained professionals available in the Department of Social Work at MD Anderson. Social work counselors offer free counseling to patients, families and friends, and can also help you locate a counselor close to home or find a support group.
To connect with a counselor, visit the Department of Social Work online or call us at 713-792-6195.
If talking with others seems more stress inducing than stress relieving, starting a journal or a blog might be a better solution.
To find out more about National Social Work Month, visit the National Associated of Social Worker's website.