5 Ways To Stay Calm After Cancer, on International Calm Day
If you’re going through cancer or moving on from it, how do you stay calm under the pressures you’re facing?
Wednesday 5th April is International Calm Day. Most days it’s a struggle for the average person to stay level headed with all the social, political and emotional pressures we experience. But if you’re also going through cancer, or are moving on from it, how do you keep your cool when your perspective, reactions and threat sensors are on high alert? Here’s 5 ways…
1. Acknowledge the seriousness of what you’ve just been through
Whilst calm might literally mean ‘the absence of strong emotions’, it’s fair to say you’re going to struggle with achieving that ideal after such a big challenge. Acknowledge how big a deal this might have been. That doesn’t mean making it bigger, it means opening up to the possibility that you can see how difficult and challenging this experience was and is and you don’t have to minimise it.
In an ideal world we’d love to ‘just think positively’ all the time but this unrealistic expectation that can set you up for a fall. Whilst I advocate for goals and mantras and more, we have to give ourselves the ability to be honest, whatever it is we’re experiencing.
If we deny that we have strong emotions, we’re likely to feel denied. This can lead to minimising our experience at our own expense, so that important emotions like anger, sadness and grief are hidden and not explored, when they are just as valid as, say, happiness, relief, excitement. It’s OK to say ‘this was a really big deal’.
2. Don’t see yourself as separate to who you were before cancer
The common mistake we tend to make is to believe we are a different person to who we were before cancer. Whilst this can bring benefits — enabling us to move forward with a renewed sense of perspective and passion — it can have downsides.
If we think we need to be a different person after cancer, this can bring distress when we struggle to find out who this new person should be. Of course, a coach like me helps with this but it’s added pressure we don’t need to place on ourselves at such a vulnerable time.
Equally, if we want to be a very different person after cancer this is exciting, but we need to remember to work with our potential new limits first before removing them, rather than working against them or pretending they’re not there, which could result in exhaustion or overwhelm.
A kinder way for us to view this is to see ourselves on a continuum, with a relatively fixed personality across our whole life, and with events, challenges and beautiful moments all pushing us along our own time line. This helps us see the ebb and flow of life and creates a sense of calm in knowing we can be ourselves whilst also creating newer versions too.
3. Let people know your hardest emotions
It’s easy to shut away the things we don’t want to hear or that which we’re nervous to tell others about, but it’s important we don’t do this. Being calm means we can also react to pressures in a measured way, and we don’t know how to do this unless we’ve externalised some of those pressures.
This can be really hard. We don’t want to burden friends and family who’ve already helped so much, and perhaps we’re scared of their reaction too. We might feel it’s too much to talk to a therapist or support group at the moment, or perhaps we are doing just that, but can’t quite articulate those difficult thoughts and feelings.
But what good is it doing us to keep them from being understood? To learn how we’re best going to support ourselves, and get support from others, surely it’s better knowing what we aren’t coping well with to find solutions and outcomes that we’d prefer to work on.
4. Don’t externally rise to those who don’t understand
Whilst there will be many around you who’ve been supportive and amazing, there will always be others who turn away from you — in fear or naivety or whatever it may be. There will also be those who turn towards you and say and do completely the wrong thing for you.
The hardest part here is remembering that you’re the one who needs to learn how to cope with this — harsh, but true. If you don’t find ways to get that armour on, the world is going to continue to feel like an unsafe place after cancer.
So, for all the ‘my auntie had that and she died’s, the ‘why do you think you got it’ and the ‘why don’t you try yoga/meditation/this other treatment I’ve read about once from a site I know nothing about’ — allow them to happen, because they will.
For the latter in particular, many of the suggestions people have might be ones you want to look into, but it’s unlikely you haven’t already done so and either chosen not to do it at this time for a good reason or you’ve actively chosen against it, therefore disagree with the person — which you’re allowed to.
Either way, quietly and internally remind yourself that this is what people want to do — help by giving advice and suggestions — and you have choice and control in whether to take that up or not. It’s unlikely to be the most useful conversation to enter into the differences of opinions and beliefs — because often this is what suggestions are based on, and these are strong things to change in people. By all means, if and when you’re in a strong and measured place, take up that conversation as you wish, but when you’re vulnerable and less in control it may not be the right time. Build your internal resilience first, then work on the rest another time.
5. Remember, you don’t have to be calm
Frankly there’s enough pressure in life without cancer to need to stay emotionally balanced. Get it out in some way — shout it (in an appropriate place and time, preferably), move it out of your body through some form of movement like walking, running, yoga (see point 4), acknowledge you are doing the best you can and see this experience for what it is right now — an experience. You don’t have to like it or love it.
Getting upset, feeling angry or guilty isn’t going to bring your cancer back so drop that thought. Being calm is an ideal and it feels great to have it, but we’ll falter and waiver from it many times.
Hear what not staying calm is bringing up for you, and in this very acknowledgement, we are likely to feel a breakthrough in the pressure to be calm all the time.
We can learn many things from others too in how they cope with their own cancer; how they did or didn’t stay calm at a certain time, but remember — a survivor isn’t a ‘better’ survivor because they’re calm — we’re all just learning, trying to get on and, well, survive.
To hear about the Moving Forward from Cancer Community, take a look here.