Tag Archives: David Spiegel

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.