This is a recording of our first Facebook Live event for Successful Survivorship. My hope is to create a weekly event where you and I get to meet one another for the purpose of support and community. If you do know someone who can benefit from this resource please point them in this direction.
Facing the unknown of cancer treatment, it is only natural to experience fear and anxiety. Our mind, in an attempt to make sense of what’s ahead, can come up with all kinds of worst-case scenarios, which deplete and depress us. It is therefore vital that we cultivate resilience and strengthen our support system so we can effectively avoid the pitfall of anticipatory anxiety.
Anticipatory anxiety is where a person experiences increased levels of anxiety by thinking about an event or situation in the future.
Interestingly enough in a research study, highly anxious chemotherapy patients suffered twice as much “anticipatory nausea” (18.1%) than the mildly anxious patients did (9.8%).1 Our brains have a tendency to run non-stop like a hamster in a wheel or a chattering monkey. Fortunately there are patterns and behaviors you can learn to combat these negative thoughts and feelings.
Distorted thinking can perpetuate the fear of cancer treatments. Following are a few examples of how thinking can become distorted. See if you can relate to any of these:
- All-or-nothing thinking: Seeing things in the extreme. You may think, “If I even start to feel nauseous I’m stopping all treatment.”
- Overgeneralization: One negative occurrence gets applied it to everything in life. “Why does this always happen to me?” When in reality it hasn’t happened but a few times.
- Disqualifying the positive: Rejecting positive experiences by insisting that they’re flukes. The opposite of over generalization. “That almost never happens!”
Change Your Thinking
We are, in part, products of our environment. This means that some of our thought processes are learned. Therefore when these thoughts are not benefiting us we can learn new ways to cope. Here are a few that will help with anticipatory anxiety:
- Behavior therapy attempts to identify and eventually change unhealthy behaviors. Our behaviors are learned. They are reactions to what happens to us. It’s possible to “unlearn” these behaviors to possess better coping skills.
- Biofeedback can teach you to you use the power of your thoughts to control your body. You’re connected to electrical sensors that give you information about your body so by making subtle changes, such as relaxing certain muscles, you can achieve the desired results such as reduced pain, less nausea, and/or dizziness.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, helps people become aware of their negative interpretations. Many times people may not even realize they interpret situations in a negative way. CBT can help people develop more positive ways of thinking, which can reduce psychological distress.
- Hypnosis, when used as an adjunct therapy to medical treatment, can help in numerous ways. It can help improve patients attitude toward treatment, improve their outlook and even improve their immune response by addressing past life events and trauma shown by the scientific study of Psychoneuroimmunology to suppress the immune system. It can further help resolve and modify destructive behaviors such smoking cessation, curb food intake of sugar and overall improve treatment outcome by addressing treatment side effects so that patients can complete their treatment regiment.
- Progressive muscle relaxation focuses on slowly tensing and then relaxing each muscle group. This action helps the patient focus on the difference between muscle tension and relaxation. One method is to start with the muscles in your toes and tense then relax them. Do this throughout your entire body all the up to your head. You can also start with your head and neck and work down to your toes. Imagine that when you relax the muscle, all that tension flows out of your body. When you are fearful this gives you something else to focus on and helps you feel the stress in your muscles and then let it go.
Behaviors can change over time with practice. This is not a quick fix but will give you the tools you need to cope with anticipatory anxiety and other challenges you face in life. If you have questions on these treatments, how they are performed, and how they can help you, please contact me right now by email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 617.564.0707.
According to the Washington Post, every day in the United States approximately 4,600 people are diagnosed with some form of cancer. 1 The most common initial reaction to those three dreaded words “you have cancer” is shock, fear and disbelief, which are followed by an intuitive sense that life as we’ve known them are forever changed. If you have “been there” yourself or know someone who has been impacted by cancer you know there’s some truth to it. You also know that today, more then any other time in history we have the means and tools to help patients survive and thrive.
Feelings Upon Diagnosis
Once diagnosed, most patients describe feeling disoriented. The pace of change and the life threatening nature of this illness often bring about anger, anxiety, fear, and depression, which take time to process. It’s hard to admit that despite of so many medical and technological advancements, and the fact that more and more patients do survive treatment, Cancer is still associated with a death sentence.
I’m not going to pretend things are perfect in any way, I do however want you to know even during this trying times you can learn how to cope with and successfully overcome all of these experiences. You can journey from feeling like a victim, to feeling and being a victor.
One successful strategy to taking control is to keep your gaze on the big picture. Yes, there is another tomorrow and the sun will rise again. This will help you place the information disseminated by your Medical team in the right context. Everything may sound very urgent, and it may very well be, but you have a voice and it’s the most important one. If you feel rushed, slow things down.
You may feel like your body has betrayed you and therefore you cannot trust yourself anymore, but you are so much more then just your body, you are a whole person with a rich life experience to draw from. As you learn about treatment options, conventional and alternative, and start to put together a treatment plan that is right for you it will be easier to adjust since you know what your next steps are. 2
In most cases, progression of illness is slow which means you have time. You have time to address not only your body but also yourself, the person within this body. Doing so will help you feel acknowledged, witnessed, heard and more in control.
If you read any of my previous blog posts you know that I view illness through a multidimensional lens. My belief is that illness must be addressed not only on the level of the body or physical symptoms but also on the level of the mind.
Imagine a boxer that eats well, lifts weights to gain muscle, and performs cardio to increase endurance. But leading up to the fight he keeps thinking there’s no way he can win. On the day of the fight he is unable to focus on the end result he wants to achieve, he gets hit and will likely lose because he has not realized this match requires mental and emotional endurance as much as physical one. Remember this quote from Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”
Mental & Spiritual Wellness
The one takeaway I want you to remember today is that while your medical team is doing everything in their power to mend your body, it is up to you to tend to and mend your mind. Talk to your medical team about integrating complementary medicine into your cancer care, especially hypnotherapy. Why hypnotherapy? Well, hypnotherapy engages the part of your mind called the Subconscious Mind. This part of your mind harbors your beliefs and perceptions (responsible for stress, fear, helplessness). It’s also the part of your mind that governs many of your bodily functions like immune function for example.
Working in the realm of the Subconscious Mind to change the quality of your perceptions (of treatment/procedures) from negative and harmful to positive and supporting can have a transformative effect on your experience. Any medical provider will agree that getting into treatment in the right frame of mind can improve outcome. Furthermore, resolving the mental patterns inhibiting immune functions can allow your immune system to be restored to its full capacity thus make your body more resilient.
I will leave you with this final analogy for the need to treat illness on all of its dimensions:
Think of a person as a musical instrument. Say for example, someone hands you a beautiful guitar made of exquisite wood polished to a warm glow. You start to strum it, but it sounds horrible! So you use a pitch pipe to tune each and every string in order to get the best sound. You take the extra effort to get each string tuned to the correct note and once you start to play again the guitar produces the melodic sound you want. Now it is harmonious and balanced. Translate that into recovery and healing and it becomes clear these goals they can only be achieved when we address every single dimension. Then you can feel like you are in charge of your own destiny and can begin the journey toward a positive outcome.
If you have questions on where to go next or what hypnosis can do for your recovery, please contact me today. I’m happy to help.
With the onset of illness, emphasis is often placed on treating the physical and biological. This makes perfect sense because that’s where the crisis is most visible; however, there is an inner crisis, an invisible one, that is worthy of attention as well. This inner crisis, I understand from my clients is the most scarring one.
So, what can you do to address this inner crisis while your medical team does everything in their power to heal your body? How can you reach that place inside of you that scalpel can not possibly cut deep enough to reach, nor can any amount of chemotherapy or radiation penetrate in order to promote true health and lasting healing?
While there is more than one way to scale this mountain, I wish to highlight the road less traveled as the road that leads you to the inner realm of your mind.
It’s Not Therapy
There are only a few medical facilities within our great nation that as a standard of care give attention to the individual patient’s emotional and mental state throughout their course of therapy. While this represents a step in the right direction, this type of therapy engages (primarily) the part of our mind called the Conscious mind, and therefore, can not, by design, penetrate the realm of the Subconscious mind where the fortress of the authentic-self resides. The end result is that patients continue to feel unchanged or untouched from within; therefore fear, worry and self-blame continues to plague them long after treatment has ended.
The road to wellness this post highlights does not cross paths with the Law of Attraction or any other associated metaphysical system. The success of these methods is so hard to measure that it often backfires. Without the ability to measure our progress, we risk feeling even more helpless, inadequate, punished, and less worthy of healing.
So, how do we reach this inner realm of the mind? The answer is so simple you might miss it. We utilize our mind’s ability to “see” in a constructive way, then burn this “vision” into every nerve and fiber in our body. We use our creative ability to form detailed mental images in our mind’s eye and through practice and disciplined repetition plant these images like we would a seed in the fertile ground of our mind, more accurately, the all-powerful part of our mind called the Subconscious mind.
This becomes our road map or blueprint for wellness.
The All Powerful Mind
Before we delve into the “how”, let’s first examine the “why”.
Why is the Subconscious Mind so important for healing and health?
The first thing to know is that our mind is not our brain. The terms “mind” and “brain” are often used interchangeably; however, they each carry different connotations. The “brain” is the tangible and physical organ within the skull. The “mind” is the intangible, or non-physical, part of our being. It encompasses qualities such as “thought,” “creativity,” and “emotion.” Medicine treats the mind and the brain as two sides of the same coin. More contemporary schools see the mind and the brain as architect and contractor. The mind creates the plans, and the brain uses those plans to coordinate mental and physical activity.
The mind itself has two distinct components: the Conscious mind and the Subconscious mind. The Subconscious mind is sometimes called the Unconscious mind in traditional practices. Sigmund Freud compared the whole mind to an iceberg, with the conscious and analytical mind representing the part of the iceberg above the water. The vast part of the mind, the Subconscious mind, however, exists beneath the surface. The Subconscious mind is beyond the reach of conscious thought.
The Subconscious mind is our emotional center, the storehouse of our memories, perceptions, and beliefs. As a result, it is able to exert great influence over our experiences. More importantly, it can exert great influence over one’s cancer recovery. The Subconscious mind is the part of our mind that regulates many of our bodily functions, including immune function. This means that if we perceive ourselves as not worthy of recovery, and if we believe we do not have the inner resources to cope and recover, we will have a harder time truly healing.
The Subconscious mind is important for health and healing because it has the power to turn the invisible into visible. It governs many of our bodily functions. Thus, it has the ability to either inhibit or enhance immune function, diminish or increase our resiliency, and foster or impede our ability to fight and recover from cancer.
Weaving New Thoughts
So, by what means or mechanism, can we harness this amazing ability of our mind to influence the body? Well, if you are like any of my clients, you have utilized this mechanism many times before. I know that for sure because the most common use of this mechanism is worry! Yes, worry. When we worry we utilize this creative ability to explore possible future outcomes. Thankfully, each time we begin to form a new action plan for our mind to follow, we do not stick with these plans for too long. This is why these worry-thoughts and images do not materialize. This, however, does not mean the mechanism isn’t effective, it certainly is.
So, let’s try this, instead of sending worry-thoughts through this mental machine of yours, take a moment (10 to 15 seconds at the most) to see yourself in your mind’s eye already healthy, recovered, well and happy. Place the emphasis on seeing your desired outcome of health and healing.
There is NO way you can do this wrong or fail. If 15 seconds of visualization is too long of a time, make it 5 seconds. If visualization does not come easy to you, write things down on a piece of paper. Write something like “in ___ months from now I will feel…”. Describe in as many details as you can how you want to feel both physically and emotionally. Once you have that down, write it again and again in PRESENT TENSE as if it already happened.
Now, please note that simply holding the image of your desired outcome in your mind once or twice is NOT going to help you at all. In fact, minuscule practice may backfire and serve as a “proof” of failure, suggesting you are not worthy of healing and recovery. You need to work on it and rehearse your image and outcome again and again in much the same way athletes rehearse for their performance. Run this image few times a day until it feels just right. Burn it into your memory and nerves because only then will your Subconscious mind accept it and act upon it.
When it feels effortless, spend more time rehearsing, add more details, and make use of all of your senses. Immerse yourself in this new reality of yours until you own it. For example, how strong and agile will you feel in your body three month from now? What it would feel like to be back where you want to be? Doing all the things you want to do?
Do it Your Way
Finally, there are many protocols or names on the internet for harnessing the power of your mind for improvement. Most, however, do not work to affect change directly within the Subconscious Mind.
Self-Hypnosis is one protocol which is easy to learn and apply, especially when you are physically less active or bedridden. Want to learn more about Self-Hypnosis? Need help applying this method? Send us a note and we’ll be happy to share with you a short guide for home practice of self-hypnosis.
For further information call 617-564-0707 or write me at Free@AvinoamLerner.com
22 Mount Auburn Street
Watertown, MA 02472
For more information or to schedule your FREE consultation, call 617.564.0707.
About Avinoam Lerner
Avinoam Lerner is a Practitioner in the Field of Complementary Medicine specializing in Cancer Wellness & Recovery. Author of The New Cancer Paradigm.
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