It’s Monday, and on Thursday you’re having a followup scan to check for evidence of cancer recurrence. You feel fine, but the fear won’t leave you alone. Your neck and shoulders are tense, you’re not sleeping, and you can’t seem to focus at work. You wonder how you’re going to make it through the week.
Fear of cancer recurrence is extremely common. Per a 2013 review published in the journal Psychooncology, studies show that anywhere from 33% to 96% of cancer survivors struggle with persistent fear of recurrence, making it one of the most common concerns among cancer survivors.1 You’re not alone, but that doesn’t make it any easier. What can you do to keep fear from stealing your peace of mind?
Here’s a helpful tip: you can’t eliminate fear entirely, but you can displace it.
Think of it like light and dark: they can’t occupy the same space. If you find yourself in a dark room, you don’t try to beat the dark away; you look for ways to create light. You flip a switch or light a candle, because when you focus on creating light, the dark goes away on its own. Light always wins.
What can you create that will drive fear away? Gratitude.
You can’t feel both fear and gratitude in the same moment – it’s one or the other. They create opposite physiological states: fear induces production of stress hormones like cortisol and catecholamines, while gratitude dials back production of stress hormones and is associated with production of “feel good” hormones like oxytocin. 2 If you master the ability to generate gratitude at a moment’s notice, you have a powerful tool at your disposal to calm yourself (and your body) should fear arise.
While most of us can readily generate gratitude when things are calm, it can be harder to do once fear has set in. Adopting a short daily gratitude practice – say, writing down five things you’re grateful for before bed each night – makes it far easier to summon gratitude when you need it under a cloud of cancer-related fear.
You deserve to enjoy every day, not have your time and energy stolen by fear of cancer recurrence. Try a regular dose of gratitude – your mind and your body will thank you!
1 Koch L et al, Fear of recurrence and disease progression in long-term (≥ 5 years) cancer survivors–a systematic review of quantitative studies. Psychooncology. 2013 Jan; 22(1), PMID: 22232030
2 Algoe SB, Way BM, Evidence for a role of the oxytocin system, indexed by genetic variation in CD38, in the social bonding effects of expressed gratitude. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2014 Dec, PMID: 24396004
Copyright 2015, Shani Fox, ND, LLC