Stress is a likely occurrence for families facing cancer. It is helpful to know some practical ways to alleviate stress, or avoid it all together. Some of the most basic methods are; alter the source of stress, avoid the stress, or accept it by building up your resistance.
To Alter Stress: Change the thing that is causing stress. If it is a time crunch, rearrange your schedule; drop some task or errand that isn’t crucial. If it is a specific incident or pending event, write it down on a sheet of paper. Be sure that you just write down one thing at a time, and then list some ways you could handle it: Be creative and think of many ways, even the silly or absurd. Then pick one thing from your list, and do it. Taking action will alter and lessen stress—feeling as if your hands are tied will increase stress. For example, you feel a lot of stress after the doctor informs you that an additional treatment is required:
1) Research the treatment; read up on it, and if you have more questions, call and ask the doctor.
2) Talk to your professional coach or counselor about how you feel and what you need to do next.
3) Vow to avoid jumping to conclusions. Instead, wait and see how the treatment turns out.
4) Sing a song or recite a poem to your dog or cat (or yourself) about how you are feeling. Read aloud from a favorite book that you find comforting.
To Avoid Stress: Walk away or leave the setting you find stressful, or avoid it from the start. You may go on a short drive or a trip for a day or more, ask people not to call you, go to a movie, etc. Knowing your limits helps—if something is past your limit, say no. Think of what your limits are for time, energy, money, the ability to remain happy or cheer people up. If you have used all of these resources for the day, week or month, draw the line. You can replenish your vitality by taking a reprieve from having to give to others continually. You can delegate; someone else will make the appointment, pick up the food, and so on.
To Accept Stress by Building Resistance to it: Prepare for any crisis that may occur, by conditioning yourself to accept stress if or when it occurs. Prepare yourself physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.
- Physically – by eating healthy foods, exercising, proper sleep, & simple relaxation. Just as your body needs exercise, it also needs relaxation.
- Mentally – by clarifying priorities and goals. Make plans monthly, weekly, daily. Implement plans by writing small tasks in your calendar that reflect your plan. Live by that calendar: If tonight is your dine out club, take your cell phone or give the number where you will be, and go have fun. If you planned to enroll this semester at school, keep your plan. Your calendar is your foundation for mental health. Since you have a life, as reflected in your calendar, disappointing or stressful events will affect you, but not nearly as much as if you had no life of your own. The calendar points your way to the future that you have chosen.
- Socially – by asking for support from extended family, friends, your community and social groups to which you belong.
- Spiritually – by prayer, fellowship, meditation.
Remember, stress is not reality. Stress is how your mind reacts to the reality around it. For instance, when you receive a message from the doctor asking you to call, your automatic response may be stress, but you can pause—choose to remain neutral, and check back with the doctor. If the news is disappointing, you can once again become stressed or listen to your Higher Power—realize that stress will make it worse for all concerned. The news is beyond your control—but how you react to the news is absolutely within your control.