The call comes in. You are suddenly hearing the word cancer in the same sentence as your name. Now you are in a swirl of emotions, such as fear, confusion, dismay, and oh so many questions. What to do now?
The most important thing to do initially is, well… nothing. Nothing?! But there is this cancer thing, and I have research to do, and phone calls to make, and… No, really, nothing. Just for now – action steps will come later. Why start with nothing?
Your body heals best in a state of relaxation. Taking a few minutes to do nothing and quiet your mind will help your body to relax. Why is this so important? The opposite state of relaxation is stress. When your body is in a stressed state, hormones such as cortisol increase, causing changes that dramatically decrease your body’s ability to heal. Changes such as increased blood glucose, shutting down digestion and reducing immune system function will significantly reduce your body’s ability to heal.
The changes associated with the stress response are meant to be short-lived; once the crisis is handled, your body returns to a state of relaxation. This process is normal. It is the effects of prolonged stress that dramatically decrease your body’s ability to heal. It is understandable to see cancer as a threat, but the truth of the matter is, you have a choice in how approach your diagnosis. Your body has an amazing ability to heal, and this is the message you want to focus on, not the alternative message that your life is in danger.
This is not about stuffing emotions. You should acknowledge every emotion that you feel – keeping them inside will also have negative health consequences. It is much healthier to act as an observer to your emotions; notice them, acknowledge them, and even thank them for visiting. The important thing to remember is that you are not your emotions. Your true being is constant; your emotions can change with your thoughts and perspective.
By taking a few moments to do nothing, you are sending the message to your body that there is not an immediate threat, and your body will stay in a more relaxed state. Now I am not saying that cancer is something to be taken lightly. On the contrary, you will have many difficult decisions, conversations and treatments in the coming weeks and months. My question for you is, can you approach these situations from a state of relaxation? If so, your body will have a much better chance of healing.
So how do you achieve this state of relaxation? It is a skill that takes practice. Here are some ideas, try one or two and see how they work for you:
1) Sit quietly, close your eyes and just notice your breath for 5-10 minutes. Breathe slowly. Rapid breathing signals the body that there is danger present. Breathe in for a count of 5, pause for a count of 5, and then exhale for a count of 5.
2) Spend time in nature. Go for a walk, or just sit where you can observe plants and wildlife. Stop and put your feet in the grass or stick your toes in a creek or lake. Nature has an inherent ability to heal and impart wisdom.
3) Have some fun – listen to your favorite music, dance, laugh (think of something that has made you laugh or smile in the past).
4) Exercise, if it is part of your normal routine, will help your body to relax. Do not do something extreme that your body is not used to doing; this will cause another stress response.
5) Keep an attitude of gratitude; we all have something to be thankful for. Further, tell someone how much you appreciate them; it will brighten both of your days.
The more time your body stays in a state of relaxation, the greater your healing potential will be. Try to find ways to work these techniques into your daily routine whenever you are feeling stressed. Relaxation is your body’s normal state, and it will want to return there. Doing things that help your body relax will serve as a reminder that it is OK to relax. Performing one of the above exercises at the beginning of your day will help set a tone of relaxation to carry into your day.
Any time you choose relaxation over stress, your body will benefit. You can do all the same tasks, just in a more relaxed state. You will also find that in a state of relaxation, you will be more efficient, think more clearly, and have more productive interactions with others. It is a win all around.
From this state of relaxation, you can begin to ask your body what it needs most to heal. You will not gain this awareness from a state of stress.
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