If you’re a regular reader, the fact that this post is hitting on Monday instead of Friday may throw you for a loop. This post is a companion piece to a guest moderator spot on the Monday night #bcsm (breast cancer and social media) Tweetchat. I hope that it is helpful.
Anyone who has faced a life-threatening health crisis, will know what I am talking about when I say, “the fear.” The fear is that thing that lurks beneath the surface. It bubbles up when you have a headache. It spikes when you have a stitch in your side. The fear makes it hard for you to smile when people say, “But you’re done with treatment. Aren’t you glad?” They can’t quite understand that, at least while you were in treatment, you were monitored all the time. It felt like there was less of a chance of a recurrence sneaking in under the radar.
The fear stalks you as you try to reengage with your life. It can make it hard to plan for the future. It can turn routine follow-up appointments to a tortuous obstacle course of anticipation, anxiety, and impatient waiting. The fear can sneak its way between you and people who love you. So for today’s post, I want to focus on a few concrete things that you can do to shift the balance of power from the fear back to you.
Tips for Coping
- Breathe. I’m going to start with the simplest–but sometimes most effective–coping tool. When you get anxious, or frightened, it is normal for your breathing to get more rapid and shallow. So, let’s focus first on a coping tip that you can use anywhere and anytime. If you recognize that the fear is ramping up, say to yourself, “I am going to focus on my breathing.” Then take an unforced breath in through your nose (try to breathe in for two counts), pause (for two counts), and exhale gently (for four counts). This eight-count pattern naturally begins to deepen and slow your breath. That causes a cascade of anxiety and tension release throughout your body.
- Name your fear. So many times, you may be tempted not to think about what you are afraid of. The problem with that strategy is that trying not to think about something just focuses your mental energy on that thing. For example, in the next thirty seconds, I want you to try your hardest not to think about pink elephants. What are you thinking about? Sometimes, when you name your fear, you can limit the amount of energy you spend on it.
- Create a container for your fear. What this looks like is entirely up to you. You may choose to keep a fear journal, or use a blog space, or post in an online forum. You may write your fears on scraps of paper and stuff them in a “fear jar.” There is a lot of room for creativity when you think about a fear container. The important thing is that you give yourself both permission to express your fear and boundaries so that you don’t have to worry that the fear will “take over.”
- Get support. If you have already faced a life-threatening health crisis, then fear is a perfectly appropriate response. You need support and safe spaces to talk about your fear. As with containers, safe spaces look different for everyone. You may connect with friends and family who can set aside their fear in order to support you through yours. Or you may reach out to support groups online or locally. You may choose to speak with a spiritual leader or therapist. You may do a combination of all of the above plus a few extras.
- Allow yourself to connect to life despite the fear. This is another tool that has lots of room for customization. For so many of us, fear disconnects us from family, friends, and the activities that we love. It’s almost as though the fear whispers to you, “If you enjoy this family moment without remembering me, you’re jinxing yourself.” Part of coping with fear is intentionally, mindfully choosing to be active. To do the things that bring you joy. To spend time with the people that make life worth living. To enjoy your body’s capacity–even if you’re in a phase of recovery.
These tips are just a beginning. I’d love to hear some of your favorite fear management tips as well.
Image Credit: Photo of graffiti by Jimme, Jackie, Tom & Asha via Flickr