Why distract yourself from cancer?
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- The need for headspace
- Why distract yourself from cancer?
- Ways to distract yourself from cancer
- Unhealthy distractions
- Work out what works for you
The need for headspace
I remember a counsellor saying to me, ‘How does it feel when you don’t think or talk about cancer?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know? I don’t think I have.’
To purposely not think about cancer and instead actively distract yourself from cancer was the one thought that simply hadn’t occurred to me.
Since the moment of diagnosis my brain had been submerged by a tsunami of thoughts.
Initially my head swirled mostly with the initial tests results from scans and biopsies, then it was filled to the brim with treatment decisions and agonizing prognosis statistics.
But that was only the start. At every point in the journey there is something new to learn and get your head around.
Your own emotional reaction and that of your family and friends can be very overwhelming, causing further stress and anxiety to take hold.
It is completely normal for thoughts surrounding your own spirituality to arise, no matter how life-threatening your cancer may be, which again can be very intense.
As a caregiver I was consumed by very practical thoughts. What is the best nutrition? What should I pack in his hospital bag? From sorting finances and hosting visitors to managing side effects and sorting out his medication schedule.
But for anyone facing cancer, there is just so much on your mind and I allowed myself to become consumed by negative thoughts.
My head hurt, a lot. Over-stimulated by it all my frantic, busy mind brought chaos to my daily existence; my sleep was interrupted, my personality was hijacked and my face felt contorted with anxiety and fear.
I should have listened to the counsellor and really tried to calm my restless mind.
In reaction to the whole cancer experience I should have sought out peace and acceptance. Instead I allowed my rigid, intolerant gut reaction to win.
It would have helped me weather the storm better and it definitely would have been easier on my husband if I could have been more resilient in the moment.
Purposeful distraction is what I needed.
Perhaps you also are in need of some mental self-care, temporary relief and a chance to breathe a little deeper. If only for a moment.
Why distract yourself from cancer?
By finding a way to distract yourself from cancer you can break the chain of incessant, repetitive thoughts.
This coping strategy will allow you to discover a sense of relief from all the tension and negativity.
Seeking distractions and allowing your mind to wander away from all the challenges you are facing will not cure your cancer or solve your problems. But..
By finding ways to distract yourself in the moment can help you shift the focus give your mind a rest from the anxiety-driven, fear-based thoughts.
By learning the skill of purposeful distraction, you can also divert your attention from difficult medical procedures or all-consuming side effects such as pain. (Obviously distraction never should replace any treatment from your medical team).
It is so easy to become stuck internally going over and over the same problems or scenarios.
So, a little escapism and time-out may be just what you need for some much-needed stress relief.
Ways to distract yourself from cancer
You need to find or re-discover an interest which draws you in and captivates your mind over a sustained period of time.
It needs to be an activity in which you can immerse yourself long enough to hold your attention and provide some chance of mind relaxation.
Clearly, everyone is different with a different activity which will absorb, so try to remind yourself what makes you tick. Perhaps even try a new activity or hobby which you have always wanted to do.
It doesn’t have to exciting, cleaning is an option! As long as it distracts you and helps you cope and manage your stress.
The benefits of exercise not just for the body but also the mind, are well documented.
The beauty of exercise is that it allows you an opportunity to concentrate upon something else all whilst improving your physical self.
Whether it is following an instructor’s every move, focusing on your form, listening to music, chatting to your work-out buddy or watching TV whilst you train can all provide the perfect way to distract yourself from cancer.
Even if or when you are not feeling up to exercise, watching sport on TV or going to a live game can be very distracting and enjoyable.
Music is a tool which you could use to promote your mental well-being.
Everyone can identify with a moment or emotion which has been lifted by the right tune.
Either playing music or listening to it in any form can give you better quality of life in the moment.
It is also an activity which can be a shared and enjoyed by the patient and caregiver alike.
Music helps you to;
- ‘tune-out’ the all-consuming thoughts
- reduce stress and anxiety
- relax and be comforted
- enhance your mood and overall well-being
- be distracted from up-coming test results or prognosis
- reduce your suffering from difficult side effects.
Using music as a therapy tool is cost-effective, easily accessible and can be used anywhere for example; at home, on the way to appointments, during long treatment sessions or at the bedside.
My husband and I definitely used music for comfort and stress release throughout. Some of my most comforting memories are of listening to records beside the fire with my husband when times were tough.
Meditation is an effective way of freeing your mind from intrusive, negative thoughts.
With meditation, you learn how to recognize intrusive thoughts, observe them, acknowledge them and then have the ability to let them go.
Meditation takes practice and doesn’t always come easily as the distractions you are aiming to avoid just keep coming into your mind!
But when you have got the knack, it can provide inner calm and mental restoration exactly when you need it the most in a stressful moment.
The general advice is to use meditation apps, or recordings, start with short bursts and work up to being able to meditate effectively.
Some people also use breathing techniques or mantras as tools to help them reap the benefits of using meditation to distract yourself from cancer.
4. Guided imagery or visualization
Another coping strategy often used to distract yourself from cancer is the use of visualization or guided imagery to help you mentally recover from the stress your day has brought.
By using your imagination, this is your chance to change the narrative and paint a picture in your head that calms and soothes your soul.
It is an opportunity to let go and silence any intrusive, negative thoughts.
You could think of your go-to ‘happy place’, using your memory or mind to create somewhere that makes you feel safe, secure and comforted.
Either by following your own inner self-talk or the suggestions from a downloadable recording or a therapist, you can create a sense of detachment from your stress.
Deep relaxation can be achieved as your breathing slows, you disengage from the tension in your body and experience some mental escapism.
Taking time away from others and focusing upon self-care is crucial for everyone going through the cancer experience.
Everyone has their own way of unwinding and finding relief from stress.
It is good to know that many cancer charities offer complementary therapies which can really help you relax for example; massage, reflexology, Indian head massage or aromatherapy.
A simple way of putting your overall well-being first getting some good quality sleep. If you can clear your mind enough to sleep, having a nap, sleep is healing, restoring and can put things in a different perspective.
For me, taking a bath has been one of my most relied upon sources of comfort through my difficult times. I find water to be very relaxing and although I have to admit my mind is not always soothed, I do always feel better after taking a bath.
I also remember us both taking time out individually from the day to go and sit by the nearby river and just stare at the water or lie back and gaze at the clouds floating by.
Reading is another easy way to distract yourself from cancer.
This time could be a good excuse to read, as many people find reading difficult to fit into their busy days.
Whether it is a book or audio book, you can be transported by your imagination into a different reality by a captivating story or character.
Writing a journal or blog can also become a really useful distraction for the mind.
This is an activity which takes time and a sustained effort, so it can offer you the ideal, regular focus you may need to pull yourself along this journey.
Writing provides an opportunity to get lost in the detail, so you can find yourself occupied for hours and become deeply engaged and absorbed by the process.
Even if you have never really written anything before, give it a go and you might surprise yourself. I’d definitely recommend it as therapy!
Gardening is not only beneficial for the physical exercise it offers, but also as an opportunity to provide relief for the mind.
Simply by being outside in nature, nurturing plants and watching them grow can give you a sense of grounding as it connects you to the earth, the here and now.
Many people see gardening as therapy in itself which can elevate your mood, re-direct your thoughts and help you to distract yourself from cancer.
9. Take a trip
From planning the itinerary, organizing every detail and imagining the sights and sounds can provide great distraction for the mind.
Anytime, anywhere you can wallow in the sense of anticipation and excitement of having something to look forward to.
Planning and taking that trip to get away from it all is the perfect distraction.
Spending quality time with your family or friends, sharing new experiences and making memories together is irreplaceable.
Art and creative expression can take many forms and you don’t have to see yourself as particularly artistic to enjoy this form of distraction.
From adult coloring books, crafting, sewing, knitting, card-making and quilting, there are lots of directions this activity could take you.
Personally, I love art but had never really dedicated any time to pursuing it as a hobby.
I remember being completely shocked that I had spent two hours at an art class not thinking about cancer because I was so engrossed in drawing daffodils!
Sadly, it was probably the first time my mind had been clear from grief in years.
The feeling was freeing, refreshing and life-affirming. Even addictive.
11. Watch a film or box set
Another temporary relief which can take your mind off how you are feeling in the moment and make you feel a little bit better is watching a good movie, TV series or going to the cinema.
By watching something heart-warming, comforting, funny or nostalgic there can be an overall relaxing effect on the body and mind.
12. Cooking or Baking
From the planning and preparation to following the instructions of a recipe, there is plenty of opportunity to distract yourself from cancer.
Choose any recipe which is labor intensive, intricate and demands your constant attention to re-direct your thoughts and captivate your mind.
Morale can also be lifted by the pride, satisfaction and sense of achievement which come from finding purpose in cooking or baking for others.
There is also an increase in self-esteem from the praise from which undoubtedly will flow when enjoying a home-made meal or bake with your family or friends.
13. Find a project
Finding a project to do which is completely unrelated to what you are going through can be a practical way to cope on days you are struggling.
From de-cluttering, sorting out your paperwork or clearing out your wardrobe, to writing a novel or doing some home improvements, everyone has something they’d like to do or could do as a form of distraction.
The alternative focus getting involved in a project can not only distract you, but also make you feel productive and empowered.
Ticking off that to-do list which has haunted you for a while can be very therapeutic as it gives you a sense of achievement and accomplishment.
As a result, your mind will feel more in control and positive in uncertain times.
Seeking distraction is not an excuse to bury your head in denial from your reality.
Pretending that cancer is not happening over the long-term is clearly not going to be good for your body or mind and should never be considered as a serious option.
What this article is suggesting are ways to manage the normal experience of uncomfortable emotions of anger, fear and sadness in order to gain relief from stress.
But this is not permission to dive into a permanent state of pure escapism which negative, unhealthy forms of distraction can offer.
Drinking, smoking, work, over-eating, medications or drugs are all traditional crutches for anyone who is struggling to cope but are only a temporary fix at best.
Your medical team are always there for support and advice in your times of need.
Work out what works for you
It is important to take some private time to figure out what you personally respond to as ways to distract yourself from cancer.
Self-care is essential, never selfish.
Building your own coping strategies to shift your attention and help you get through crisis moments by the use of purposeful distraction can be really helpful.
Create a mental go-to list which can help you in different situations, for example; at home, on the drive to the hospital or during procedures or the wait for results.
By being able to shift your attention, re-focus and re-frame your thoughts, you will be able to find the mental strength and emotional resources you need to get through this.
So perhaps try to stop thinking about cancer?! At least for a moment.
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