Last night I attended a Zoom presentation given by Jan Haworth, a survivor of breast cancer and well qualified facilitator who now provides courses and support for others experiencing cancer. Last night's talk was about anxiety after a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Jan said dealing with daily anxiety was like trying to push a beach ball under water. It's really hard to do, it keeps popping up, and sometimes it gets away from you altogether. And it takes a lot of energy, time and effort that we could be using for other things.
We all know anxiety and how that feels. Jan's presentation was geared towards those of us who have experienced breast cancer because we know that old mate Anxiety pretty well. It really raised its head with a vengeance at the time we first heard the news, and it is still a companion because we get anxious about cancer coming back, anxious about how breast cancer has changed us.
And these are anxious times. The days are real breeding grounds for anxiety and I'd say many of us are having interrupted sleep too, awakened by thoughts of uncertainty, about what will happen to us when the world does start to turn again.
So how do we cope with these thoughts?
Feeling anxious is a normal response and it can be some comfort to know we're all in this together. You're not the only one trying to hold down the beach ball. Talking about it can help too. Even just a word or two over the fence each day with our neighbours makes my walking buddy Pam and I feel better.
And here's that word 'structure' again! I know that every day round 2pm I go for a walk. If it's a fine-weather day (and even if it isn't), I look forward to getting out, leaving my work desk (which can be a source of anxiety), having a two-metre-away-chat with Pam, discussing the events of the day and how we're feeling. Routine can alleviate those lock down feelings of loneliness and not knowing quite what to do with the days.
Information reduces anxious thoughts about the unknown. That's how it can be with cancer. Even if it's information that ain't so flash, at least you know and it removes the fear of uncertainty. We have plenty of intel about this bloody virus: what it is, what happens if you get it, how to get tested, etc etc.
Keeping well and mentally healthy! Walk, cycle, jog, work outside, dig holes and plant things, build something, take the dog for lots of walkies, watch Netflix whenever you want and don't skimp on the potato chips and beer (although they say we should keep alcoholic intake to a minimum, well, OK).
Don't beat yourself up about these feelings you're having. A lot of the time I'd think to myself, 'Pull yourself together!' but now I am being gentler. I recognise the feelings, the things that make me anxious. I try to understand why, what is this about? Then I try to find a way to release that beach ball and let it float away.
Easier said than done sometimes, especially now when we have so many extraordinary things added to our usual pile of anxiety-generating issues.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures though, so why not reward yourself with something nice, something different and special. True, we don't have the usual range of options but it could be something as simple as 'today I will give myself the afternoon off' (if you're working from home), or making a trip to the grocery and adding Tip Top Cookies and Cream to the trolley, or taking a folding chair to the beach with a thermos of tea and some chocolate chip biscuits to just sit in the sun and watch the passing parade. Spend precious time with the kids, revel in the way they see the world: beautiful, shiny, glistening and full of adventure and things to explore. Get down on your knees, build sand castles and crawl about with them, see what they see.
Take time, breathe in and out, look up and look down. I know, I know .. sounds crazy .... but give it a try.