Battling cancer is one of the most draining, emotionally-exhausting experiences any of us will ever face. Aside from the strain of worry, there’s the physical exhaustion and fear of how your loved ones may be taking the news. In face of all this, it’s easy to slide into pessimism, if not outright depression: a process which can be almost as traumatic as the cancer itself. With this in mind, it’s important to try and stay positive, no matter how very dark the world may be looking to you. Here we give some quick advice on battling the psychological side of this illness:
Don’t be Afraid to Talk
So many of us find illness goes hand-in-hand with loneliness. Whether because of cultural barriers, a sense of guilt, or a determination to put on a brave face, cancer sufferers often stifle their feelings, leading to a sense of isolation. Much of this can be alleviated by finding someone to talk to, whether a friend, family member or professional counsellor. Finding a space where you can draw your fears into the daylight will help you learn to deal with them and keep a positive outlook.
Learn to Laugh
It seems counterintuitive, but laughter is the best weapon in the face of fear. Accounts of the Warsaw ghetto tell of how residents traded dark jokes to help hold onto their humanity, while soldiers are used to the idea of ‘gallows humour’. If you have a friend who always knows what to say to make you smile, or even if you simply have every Three Stooges film on DVD, make sure you put them to good use. More likely than not, you’ll find hours have flown by without you once thinking a negative thought.
Get Out the House
Being stuck in one physical space often creates a mirror situation in your psyche: of being trapped and unable to move on. Even if you feel tired after a hospital visit, going for a quick walk or visiting a relative or even sitting in a café with a book can help you feel connected to the world around you. At best, regular outings can give you a sense of routine that translates into security and peace of mind.
If you’re capable of it, exercise is a wonderful way to improve mental wellbeing. Aside from tiring us out, it releases a concentrated burst of endorphins that essentially act like a drug on our brains; lifting mood and dampening negativity. A brisk hour’s walking; twenty minute jog or short bike ride can make all the difference to mood, as well as giving you a sense of purpose that might otherwise be lacking.
Like exercising, taking time to express ourselves creatively can give us focus and result in a large endorphin boost. Whether it’s writing, photography, painting or making music, indulging our creative sides can allow us to understand and deal with problems affecting us: witness the director Woody Allen, who claims making films works better for him than therapy.
As strange as it seems, focusing on other people’s problems can help us deal with our own. Finding a cause you’re passionate about and devoting as little as a night a week to it can help you overcome feelings of helplessness, as well as giving you the simple boost that comes from making others happier. At the very least, you’ll acquire a new project to throw yourself into wholeheartedly.
Keep in Touch with Friends
In straightened times, it’s easy to lose contact with those who are important to us. No matter how low you’re feeling, make the effort to stay in touch with friends. Whether that involves a couple of drinks down the pub, a girly night in with movies and wine, or cooking dinner for everyone, it’ll give you something to look forward to and remind you – no matter how bad things get – that you have people in the world who love you unconditionally.
This article was written by the health blog team at Cancer Research who provide support for cancer patients.