Do you wake up and for a tenth of a nanosecond you’re “normal?”
That free and light sensation of being you, not your DIAGNOSIS. Then it hits you like a ton of bricks….CANCER…. You remember (painfully) that normal is a thing of the past, or at least of your past. Normal is something other people have and take for granted, and you find yourself pissed off and agonizing over what ifs.
What if the cancer doesn’t go away?
What if the cancer comes back?
What if I die before I see my kids grown up?
What if I never feel normal again?
The next thing you know, it’s hours later, your anxiety is raging, and you’re dreading how crappy you’ll feel the rest of the day from lack of sleep.
It can feel impossible to get these thoughts under control so you can get some sleep.
Do you want the good news or the bad news first?
I’ll start with the bad news – you can’t control your thoughts.
On average, we have 60-70,000 + thoughts a day and most of them are not original. We actually make them up – and start to take our opinions as fact. Then we’re already sucked into the downward spiral.
The good news is you can learn to relate to them differently.
It may be challenging at first, but with practice, it will get easier and easier.
Try this visualization to tame your anxious thoughts and get some rest!
It was shared with me and I found it so helpful!
Take a couple of slow deep breaths.
Pretend you are at the bottom of the ocean, sitting peacefully and watching the beautiful fish and coral above you. You are still and quiet and enjoy the vibrant colors and gentle movement of the fish. Your eyes are wide and you don’t feel any need to touch or grab them and they slowly pass you by as you enjoy their beauty. These are all of your positive thoughts, experiences, and feelings.
Here comes a shark. What’s the reaction?
To run, swim away, or fight with the shark? What is likely to happen when you do this? The shark chases you and bites you in the ass or the shark wins the fight – any way you look at it, it doesn’t end well, AND more sharks are likely to come. They just get bigger and bigger and more intense.
Instead, if you’re quiet and still, just as you were with the beautiful fish, the shark will just pass you by and move on.
Choosing to let go of these fears by visualizing the sharks swimming away, may give your mind the moment it needs to relax and fall asleep. When we can stop wrestling with our thoughts and emotions, they become more manageable and less intense.
I’m sure you’ve guessed by now the shark represents all of the negative and anxious, thoughts, feelings and experiences. You know, the ones keeping you up at night. The fear that the cancer will come back and that your life will never be the same.
So what’s happening in your body?
Your physical body reacts to your fears about your cancer recurrence and outcome, just as it would to a shark. Fight or flight kicks in as adrenaline and cortisol rush through your system bathing your prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for rational thought and planning, keeping you awake sending you into an anxious spiral.
To stop this from happening and get some sleep
When you notice the sharks getting the better of you, pay attention to your physical body by focusing on your breath. I know, I know. You’ve heard about this deep breathing thing before. There’s a reason for it. Breathing slowly and deeply, about 6 breaths per minute, regulates your adrenaline and cortisol so your brain can function properly and get you out of the spiral. Diaphragmatic breathing aka belly breathing, enacts your parasympathetic nervous system, lowering your heart rate, and bringing calm and making it possible for you to sleep. By doing this you can respond to the thoughts - let the sharks swim away - rather than automatically react to them.
While this technique is simple, it isn't always easy.
Trying something new to help lessen anxiety, reduce stress and sleep better in the face of cancer takes practice to become muscle memory. If you get frustrated, that's ok. Just keep breathing and coming back to the image in your mind.
If you're ready learn more about reducing your anxiety and sleeping better, contact me to schedule a free 15 minute consultation!