7 Steps to Dealing with the Overwhelm of a Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Everyone deals with the 3 words “You’ve got cancer” in their own way. Some of us may feel scared, confused, or unsure of what to do next. Others may be angry, teary, or anxious.
Oftentimes, it feels your world has turned upside down and nothing will ever be the same again. All of a sudden, you are faced with a million things to do and decisions to make, and it can be overwhelming.
We're all familiar with overwhelm, be that in the form of work deadlines, a family crisis, or just overcommitting ourselves in general. These are very unpleasant feelings and for me, being overwhelmed makes me want to hide in my bed and do nothing... because sometimes it feels easier to do nothing than do something.
Unfortunately, overwhelm is often what stops people from achieving their health goals. When I was creating my cancer recovery program, Breast Cancer Recovery Roadmap, I put a lot of thought into how our mindset affects cancer recovery. In fact, it's one of the four pillars I teach in my program.
I want women with breast cancer to have a plan that addresses all four key areas that optimize healing, and mindset is a big part of this!
The other three areas that the Breast Cancer Recovery Roadmap addresses are nutrition, lifestyle, and environment. Together, these four pillars create a strong foundation that will help improve response to cancer treatments, reduce the risk of side effects, encourage cancer recovery and discourage cancer recurrence.
When you've been diagnosed with breast cancer, often the overwhelm can stem from having too much information... especially, when that information seems to conflict. I'm going to give you 7 quick action steps that you can take to help you deal with the overwhelm of a breast cancer diagnosis.
There are lots of other ways, besides these seven, that you can use to help you cope with your diagnosis, cancer treatments, and recovery... but I've found that these have worked especially well for the breast cancer patients that I've worked with.
Let's get started!
1) Acknowledge your feelings: it’s okay to not be okay.
Accept the fact that you're overwhelmed... you're going through a trauma with the diagnosis and the treatments, the side effects... and not to mention the impact being diagnosed with breast cancer has on your self-identity.
In many ways, your life isn't normal anymore... so going back to normal isn't an option. You know you need to do something... but you don't know what to do.
You might try to bottle up your feelings and act like everything is okay on the outside, but it's important to allow yourself to experience and express what you're feeling on the inside.
The reason for this is that if you fight your feelings, they can manifest in other ways such as through poor sleep. So, it's really important to acknowledge your feelings and give yourself permission to feel overwhelmed.
This leads us to our second way to deal with the overwhelm of a breast cancer diagnosis...
2) Determine whether your thoughts are helping you or holding you back
Think about your thoughts... are they helpful or unhelpful; are they reasonable or unreasonable; are they accurate or inaccurate?
it’s unhelpful to say I don’t know what to do about nutrition because this essentially stops you from doing anything!
Step back and take a minute… thinking that you’re never going to be able to figure out the nutrition stuff because it’s too confusing is simply not helpful. Instead, focus on what you can do.
For example, can you find a resource, or someone that you like and trust to guide you in implementing a cancer-fighting nutrition strategy that works for you? That way you can focus on what works and tune out the rest of the noise.
This is where the expertise of a cancer coach comes in... someone who has worked with other cancer patients and helped them implement nutrition and lifestyle strategies to guide them on the road to recovery.
A cancer coach can also help you determine what to focus on and what to tune out based on the stage in your cancer journey that you're at. If you're serious about wanting to implement a personalized cancer recovery plan, your cancer coach can keep you accountable.
They can also provide you with solutions to support you in addressing any obstacles that you may come across during your recovery process.
If you would like to do it on your own, there are other resources out there as well... The Susan G. Komen Foundation offers financial assistance, access to care, and support services for patients.
The American Cancer Society also provides a variety of resources for breast cancer patients, including information on treatment options, financial assistance, and emotional support.
Local hospitals and cancer centers may also offer support groups and other resources for patients. In addition, many online communities offer support and information for breast cancer patients.
If you would like someone to talk to about what resources are available for breast cancer patients, I would be happy to talk to you about this.
You can book a free consult where we will go over your cancer diagnosis, recovery plan and look at what you can do to optimize it to manage side effects, improve treatment response, encourage recovery, and discourage recurrence. I will also point you toward any resources that I think will benefit you.
Let's move on to the third step in dealing with breast cancer overwhelm...
3) Reframe your thoughts in a positive direction
In the first step, we talked about acknowledging your feelings of fear and overwhelm. And in the second step, we discussed whether your thoughts are helping you or holding you back... In this third step, I want to talk about changing or reframing your thoughts.
Ultimately, you want to shift your mindset in a positive direction. Start by saying to yourself, "I'm overwhelmed, and it's okay." In acknowledging this, your brain creates a distance between your feelings and your thoughts, which is necessary to shift your thoughts in a more positive direction.
Once you acknowledge your thoughts, it becomes easier to reframe your thoughts by changing the way you think about your situation. With practice, this can be very powerful. Overwhelm stems from things you feel are uncontrollable or unpredictable, so speak to yourself differently to give yourself more control.
You can do this by changing the chat in your head from "I'm so overwhelmed" to "It seems overwhelming when I look at the whole list, but if I break it down into parts, and just deal with 1 part a day, then I can manage."
If you make something simple, your brain will perceive it as such... You don't have to stress about what you need to do later, or the next day... because you only need to concentrate on what you need to do right now, and by dividing it down into manageable parts, you may accomplish that.
Remember that you are in control of your thoughts, and no one else can dictate how you feel. Ultimately, by learning how to reframe your thoughts, you'll be able to better control your emotions and achieve your goals.
4) Break it down into manageable steps
As we touched on above, when you're feeling overwhelmed, it's helpful to break things down into smaller, more manageable steps. This will help you to feel a sense of control and accomplishment, as well as help you to focus on the task at hand.
When it comes to your breast cancer diagnosis and treatment plan, this may mean breaking things down into smaller steps such as:
1) Putting aside 30 minutes a day to educate yourself about your diagnosis and treatment options...
Instead of trying to learn everything you can about breast cancer, its treatment options, side effects, and a whole host of other information related to this in one day, you can put aside some time every day to learn about it.
This will help you feel more in control and better able to make decisions.
2) Starting a list of questions on your phone or in a journal that you want to ask your medical team, and add to the list as more questions come to you.
If you have an ongoing list in a place that's convenient, it's easier to add to it when thoughts or questions come to you.
3) Asking for a family member or friend to prepare 2 meals a week for you so you can focus on yourself and your treatment.
This is especially helpful because many of us have family members that want to help out, but just don't know what to do. If we give them a task that will help us out in a way that we need, it becomes a win-win for both of you!
You may have other items on your list, but these are just a few examples to get you started. Make a list of things that you can do to help you feel better, and then take it one step at a time.
Don't try to do everything at once... that's when overwhelm kicks in! Prioritize the items on your list, and focus on just one task at a time.
If you're looking for guidance on what to prioritize when you're initially diagnosed with cancer, I can help. Just click on my calendar link and set up a time to talk!
This leads us nicely into our fifth way to deal with breast cancer overwhelm...
5) Focus on right now
Being consumed by what may or may not happen in the future makes it very difficult to focus on the present. This leads to feeling distracted and even more overwhelmed creating a vicious cycle.
The best thing you can do is focus on taking care of yourself and living in the present moment. Having a plan in place goes a long way toward helping you focus on the present.
Another thing you can do is set aside time each day to worry about your cancer. For example, you could spend 20 minutes each evening writing down your concerns. This will help you to get them out of your head and onto paper, where you can address them more objectively.
Other strategies for staying present include mindfulness meditation and yoga, both of which can help you to become more aware of your thoughts and emotions. By learning to focus on the present moment, you can help yourself to cope with anxiety and stress.
Let's talk a bit more about mindfulness meditation...
6) Practice mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness simply means paying attention to what you're doing in the current moment without judgment. This can be tricky at first, but there are a few things that may help.
First, try to focus on breathing deeply... notice the sensations of inhaling and exhaling. Put your hands on your belly and feel it rising and falling.
This deep breathing activates our body’s relaxation response and it triggers our happy hormones, serotonin and dopamine, which affect our mood. Breathe into your belly, hold it for 2 seconds and let go… it’s amazing how much more relaxed you’ll feel.
If your mind starts to wander, that's okay, just gently bring your attention back to your breath. You can also focus on the sensations in your body or the sounds around you.
The key is to be patient and kind with yourself, and remember that it takes practice. With time, it becomes easier and more natural to be present in each moment.
The last step that works well for the women with breast cancer that I support is...
7) Make a Plan and Take action
Nothing makes overwhelm go away faster than making a plan and taking action. This is because you’ve assumed control and are doing something about it. It feels good and empowering to have a plan in place... you feel productive, like you're doing something.
That's not to say that you may not still feel overwhelmed at times, but at least you know what to do about it.
The reason I strongly believe in a holistic or integrative plan for breast cancer recovery is that while your conventional cancer treatments focus on getting rid of the tumor, they often have side effects that can be debilitating both physically and emotionally.
An integrative cancer plan takes these side effects into account and works to mitigate them with evidence-based therapies such as acupuncture, massage therapy, and mind-body techniques like yoga and meditation.
These therapies can help reduce pain, improve sleep, promote relaxation, and boost mood and quality of life. In addition, an integrative cancer plan can help the individual develop healthy coping mechanisms to deal with the stress of a cancer diagnosis and treatment.
An integrative cancer plan is a comprehensive approach to cancer care that combines conventional medicine with evidence-based complementary and alternative therapies.
The goal of an integrative cancer plan is to optimize the mind, body, and spirit of the individual by addressing the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs of the whole person.
An integrative cancer plan is an individualized approach to care that takes into account the unique needs of the mind, body, and spirit of each person.
By combining conventional medicine with evidence-based complementary and alternative therapies, an integrative cancer plan can optimize the health and well-being of the whole person.
Of course, every cancer journey is unique, so not every patient will respond the same way and what works for one person may not work for another. But, the goal is to test out approaches and see what works for you.
If you would like help in coming up with an integrative cancer recovery plan that works for you and your family, I would love to work with you on this. CLICK THIS LINK to set up a call to speak with me! We will go over your current cancer recovery plan, look for any gaps and I will work with you to create a personalized recovery plan!
CLICK THIS LINK to join my free Facebook group called Breast Cancer Nutrition and Lifestyle Strategies for Prevention and Recovery to help support you in your breast cancer journey with nutrition and lifestyle strategies.
I’ve taken all my research on diet, environment, lifestyle, and mind-body and put it into a very comprehensive program that will help you create your own cancer recovery plan. If you want to take your recovery from cancer to the next level, click on the image below.
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