Tag Archives: anxiety and fear

Guest Writer: Strategies for Coping with the Anxiety of Living with a Serious Illness


Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net / Simon Howden


Strategies for Coping with the Anxiety of Living with a Serious Illness

Finding out you have a serious illness is devastating. It forces you to come to terms with your own mortality, and while you should keep fighting every day, it’s most certainly harder to relax and find happiness when you’re faced with that thought each and every day.

For many, this causes significant anxiety. Even if you’ve responded well to treatments, your life is undoubtedly going to change. It has to, because you’ve been faced with a life changing event that has changed the course of your life forever.

But that anxiety becomes a problem when it holds you back from finding happiness in life. There are going to be trials, and times when it’s difficult to think positively, but the more time you spend focused on the adversity and the risks ahead, the less time you spend living for yourself in a way that makes you happy. Everyone will someday have to face their own mortality, but until they do, everyone deserves to try to live a life that is free of regrets and filled with joy.

Stopping Anxiety in its Tracks

Of course, this is often easier said than done. There is certainly no denying that the never-ending doctor’s visits, treatment side effects, and physical aches and pains can make controlling anxiety more difficult. But there are still ways to help you cope with the stresses ahead of you so that you still wake up each day ready to enjoy life. Some of these include:

1.  Goal Creation

The simple act of creating goals is extremely important for those living with a serious illness. You need to make sure that you’re always working for something, and that when you complete a goal you still have more to do. It’s good to be focused on the future and not feeling stuck.

Many of those with anxiety disorders (unrelated to serious illness) struggle with this as well. I certainly did. It caused me to spend each day focused on just getting through the day, and suddenly I woke up and a year had passed and I had accomplished nothing.

Even though serious illness can reduce some of your ability to meet some of these goals, there are always new goals you can try. Make sure you’re constantly working for something so that each day is one spent achieving something in the future.

2.  Permanent Creative Outlets

What Ms. Clark is doing with this blog is also incredibly valuable. When you suffer from anxiety, you no doubt have all of these thoughts in your head that you can’t seem to release. Putting them all on paper and sharing them with others is the type of creative outlet that many people need to simply take those thoughts out of their head and share them with others, and the permanence of a blog or journal ensures that at any point you can go back, see what you were feeling, and see how you are now.

Those that don’t like to write can try art as well. But anything you can do that lets out your emotions in a healthy way is valuable, and will reduce some of the pressure that these thoughts have on you.

3.  Fake It

It can be hard to feel optimistic when you are struggling with a serious diagnosis, even if you’ve managed to overcome it. When optimism fails, you try faking optimism.

We’re not talking about denial.  Denial is never healthy.  We’re just talking about pretending to be a person that isn’t affected by their diagnosis.  Pretend to be someone with a positive outlook, even if it doesn’t come naturally.

One of the most interesting things about the human brain is that when it’s confused, it tries to adapt to being confused.  By pretending to be positive, you’re confusing your brain, and often you’ll find that your mind turns you into a more positive person as a result in order to become less confused. It may sound silly, but it’s very effective, and absolutely worth a try for a few months.

  1.  Your Spirit and Anxiety

Still, in the end it’s not about the diagnosis. It’s about who you want to be and how you want to live your life. Your own willingness to recognize your anxiety and overcome it is going to be the key that moves you forward.  If you show your own inner strength by dedicating your life to happiness and enjoying yourself, you’ll find that no diagnosis can truly hold you back.

About today’s Guest Writer: Ryan Rivera has worked with many people struggling with chronic illness, and provides anxiety recovery tips at www.calmclinic.com.

Thanks, Ryan!  We appreciate your words of wisdom.

If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com).  It is my honor to help you through this.

Newly Diagnosed? Dealing with Anxiety and Fear

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and artur84
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and artur84

Newly Diagnosed?  Dealing with Anxiety and Fear

It has been my observation that newly diagnosed cancer patients generally have anxiety that is off the charts, and who could blame them?

Fear obviously plays a part in their anxiety – fear of death, pain, loss of function – it can all be life-changing and very scary.

The Difference Between Anxiety and Fear

In an effort to help move you through these sometimes paralyzing feelings, I’ve found some words that I hope will help you.

It comes from the book Living Beyond Limits by David Spiegel, MD:

“There is an important difference between anxiety and fear.  Anxiety is a general sense that something is wrong, which can lead to discomfort, restlessness, and worry, but which is not specific enough to point the way to any resolution of the problem.  Fear is something more specific – you know what you are afraid of, and this tends to make the possibility of effective action to control or reduce the fear more real.  One of the best means of treating anxiety is to convert it to fear, to change a general sense of discomfort to a fear of something in particular.  Thus, a general sense of anxiety in relation to cancer or other illness is best addressed by seeking to define exactly what it is you are anxious about: the discomfort associated with the treatment, the possibility that the disease will spread, the threat of death.  Each of these issues can be explored and addressed, which can reduce the discomfort they cause.  The way to tame anxiety is to confront it directly.  Ask rather than avoid.”

Learning The Language of Cancer

I believe Dr Spiegel gave excellent advice.  A lot of the anxiety of a new diagnosis comes from, I believe, all the new language you have to learn about medical treatments, from those overwhelming discussions of survival chances based on this therapy or that, the side effects of this or that. 

Here are a few tips to help you deal with anxiety and fear:

You must ask questions until you come to understand what is being recommended by your doctors and treatment providers.  No one could absorb all of that information the first time around, so take notes.  It is also good to have a friend or spouse with you – another set of ears listening is really important because I guarantee you, at some point you will be in overload mode and stop listening and possibly miss an important point.

Dr Spiegel also makes the point that as a newly diagnosed patient you must study for the role as though you were learning a new job.  He suggests that doctors, nurses, social workers, and other patients can be your teachers.

I would add to that list of people/teachers: other breast cancer survivors, psychotherapists (to help you manage your stress levels), naturopaths or nutritionists, and massage therapists.

That’s the role of a good healing team – to help you manage your anxiety and fear, to provide you with excellent care, to answer all of your questions in ways that you are able to understand, and to refer you to other members on the team when it’s necessary.

Try not to stay in fear-mode for too long.  Dr Spiegel’s advice to convert your anxiety to a specific fear and then tackle it by addressing each fear is a good one because if you are living in a state of fear you are not focusing on your healing and I believe that’s important to do, especially with a life-threatening disease like cancer.  Don’t beat yourself up because you are experiencing fear and anxiety, but do your best to move through it so that you can start the healing process.

I send my love to everyone taking this journey right now. If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) and I’ll do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.

Anxiety and Fear: Strategies for Coping

Anxiety and Fear Strategies for Coping
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and iamharin

Anxiety and Fear: Strategies for Coping

If you are at the beginning of your breast cancer journey, no doubt you are no stranger to the feelings of anxiety and fear.  They can be overwhelming at times.

But please take heart.  A diagnosis of breast cancer is NOT a death sentence.  Over the past two decades, medical advances have helped revolutionize our understanding of and treatments for breast cancer.  The odds are in your favor!  Survival rates are considerably higher than they used to be in the 1950’s.

I lost both my mother and my grandmother to breast cancer and when I was diagnosed (in April 2004), I remember initially being completely floored when my doctor told me I had breast cancer.  I was so sure that lump I could feel in my left breast was going to be something fibrous and nothing to worry about.  I could not believe it!

I was determined to be the one woman in my family who didn’t get it and had been doing research for years, in an effort to understand it and shield myself from it.  So in a way, I had a leg up on others newly diagnosed – I had books and notes and research articles and all kinds of information – in effect, breast cancer was an enemy with whom I was very familiar.  I spent about four hours freaking out and then I rallied myself and had a stern talk with ME.

I’m very aware that many others don’t have the benefit of all that research and that’s why I’m so committed to this blog – because I want to reach out and help those who are going through this.  I’ve been down that road and I know how it feels.  It’s scary some days.  It’s darned uncomfortable on others.  But for me it was an amazing journey and so many good things have come from it.  I hope the same for you.

I wrote a blog a few days ago: 10 Anxiety Busters for Breast Cancer Patients – there are lots of recommendations in this article about how to cope with the attendant anxiety that a breast cancer diagnosis can bring.  So I won’t be discussing that today.

Fear of Dying

What’s on my mind today is the fear of death.  Let’s talk about that.  Psychiatrists say there are three anxieties with regard to death: fear of pain and suffering, fear of loneliness, and fear of the unknown. In a study done at McGill University, breast cancer patients with different coping styles were interviewed about their death-related fears. All patients had some anxiety about at least one aspect of death, but those who could not manage their emotions had the highest scores on all three anxieties.

I strongly suggest that you do your best to keep a cool head and get the facts from your doctors about your risk, your diagnosis, and your chances of survival.  Your survival rate is closely related to the stage of your cancer.  To better understand breast cancer staging, read this article from breastcancer.org (they have a marvelous on-line forum where you can post questions and get answers).  When you understand your diagnosis really well, this generally helps to keep fear under control.

Look your fear in the face.  Understand exactly what it is you are afraid of, get some answers for yourself.  This helps relieve the anxiety.

Don’t Be Shy About Getting Help

Cancer has a way of making you feel that you are no longer in control of your life or your body. Sometimes your breast cancer journey feels like a long line of traumatic shocks. First you get that bad news, and then sometimes you get more bad news. When you develop ways of coping with the ongoing challenges of breast cancer, you are more able to actively participate not only in your healing but in activities that are important to you like managing your schedule, your relationships, your treatments – it’s a lot to handle.  So don’t be afraid to ask for support when you need it.

Many breast cancer patients seem to cope well with the stress of diagnosis and treatment. But if you are younger than average at diagnosis, have a history of depression or anxiety, or are going through extensive treatments,  you may have more emotional distress and need some help.  Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask your doctor for a referral to a counselor or mental health professional.

Also be sure to ask about support groups in your area – you’d be surprised how just talking to some others going through the same thing can have a positive affect.  Support, medication and therapy are available to you and will help you get back to feeling yourself again (and maybe better!).

Take a Break from Cancertown

If your fears are getting you down, give yourself an emotional holiday.  Take some time away from everything.  Go somewhere quiet and just breathe.  It’s okay to have your feelings, including fear of death, but put yourself in charge of your cancer journey, and put fear in its place.  A favorite quote of mine:  Invite your fears in, then tell them to sit down and shut up!

Sending love and light to you in your healing journey.

If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com).  It is my honor to help you through this.