by Laura Dolson
Waiting for procedures like biopsies and C-T scans - and then waiting again for the results - can be among the most anxiety-producing experiences that life has to offer. Often, a biopsy is our first brush with what could be a life-threatening situation. Since we are generally unprepared for this, it's natural for our nervous systems to go into overdrive, releasing adrenaline and other "stress chemicals" into the blood stream. This makes it difficult to think calmly and rationally, so worry and panic can easily take over. Waiting seems unendurable. Loss of sleep makes the situation worse. What can be done to cope with these emotions?
Develop a Plan - Often, it is calming to plan ahead to fill the time with a variety of activities aimed at coping. Leaving yourself adrift without a plan is to open yourself to the emotions of the moment. I compare these feelings to our ancestors being confronted by a bear in the woods. Knowing the woods and the behavior of bears, along with a shotgun, were the tools of our great-great-great grandfathers. We need our own set of knowledge, plans, and tools. Strategies for dealing with our current "bear in the woods" break down imperfectly into two groups.
Confrontation vs. Distraction - The two main strategies that people commonly use in this situation are confronting the situation head-on, and, conversely, distracting themselves from thinking about it as much as possible. As different as they are, these two approaches are not at all mutually exclusive. In fact, most people use a combination. From one test to another, or from one hour to the next, your needs may change. For example, you may be primarily a talker and a thinker, but you may get to a place where you just need to think about ANYTHING besides cancer. The trick is to be in touch with your needs from moment to moment, and - if at all possible - to gather people around you who can be flexible enough to switch gears when needed.
Let's take a closer look at these two sets of strategies.
Confrontation - This is what we do when we talk about our fears to others, think about the ramifications of the results of the test, and attempt to deal with the situation directly. Some examples:
1) Talk about it. Make a list of "safe" people whom you know will listen to you. Choose people who will have the patience to let you "go on and on" if that's what you need to do. Choose people who won't say "oh, you'll be fine", and "there, there don't worry" when you ARE justifiably worried. Consider finding a support group in your area, or join an internet support group (suggestions at the end of the article).
2) Spirituality If you are a church member, go. Pray, sing, ask for prayer. If you've practiced prayer, meditation, or spiritual rituals in the past and found help and comfort, this may be the time to rediscover old "friends" in spiritual practices. If you find being in nature to be a healing experience, try to get to one of your favorite spots. Light a candle. Breathe deeply. Read inspirational material.
3) Meet your fears head on. I have a friend who becomes afraid every time her husband travels for business. Her strategy for coping is to go over in her mind what she would do if he died - how she would get along on one income, take care of their son, deal emotionally, etc. Although this approach isn't for everyone, some people find confronting the fear head-on to actually be calming. For example, think about the following questions: What would be the worst thing about having cancer? What am I most afraid of if the test results are "the worst"? What would I do? How would I cope? Make a list of your fears. Sometimes breaking them down into manageable chunks and dealing with them one by one can be helpful.
Page Two - Distraction Strategies and "Getting the
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