Facing the unknown of cancer treatment, it is only natural to experience fear and anxiety. Our mind, in an attempt to make sense of what’s ahead, can come up with all kinds of worst-case scenarios, which deplete and depress us. It is therefore vital that we cultivate resilience and strengthen our support system so we can effectively avoid the pitfall of anticipatory anxiety.
Anticipatory anxiety is where a person experiences increased levels of anxiety by thinking about an event or situation in the future.
Interestingly enough in a research study, highly anxious chemotherapy patients suffered twice as much “anticipatory nausea” (18.1%) than the mildly anxious patients did (9.8%).1 Our brains have a tendency to run non-stop like a hamster in a wheel or a chattering monkey. Fortunately there are patterns and behaviors you can learn to combat these negative thoughts and feelings.
- Distorted thinking can perpetuate the fear of cancer treatments. Following are a few examples of how thinking can become distorted. See if you can relate to any of these:
- All-or-nothing thinking: Seeing things in the extreme. You may think, “If I even start to feel nauseous I’m stopping all treatment.”
- Overgeneralization: One negative occurrence gets applied it to everything in life. “Why does this always happen to me?” When in reality it hasn’t happened but a few times.
- Disqualifying the positive: Rejecting positive experiences by insisting that they’re flukes. The opposite of over generalization. “That almost never happens!”
Change Your Thinking
We are, in part, products of our environment. This means that some of our thought processes are learned. Therefore when these thoughts are not benefiting us we can learn new ways to cope. Here are a few that will help with anticipatory anxiety:
- Behavior therapy attempts to identify and eventually change unhealthy behaviors. Our behaviors are learned. They are reactions to what happens to us. It’s possible to “unlearn” these behaviors to possess better coping skills.
- Biofeedback can teach you to use the power of your thoughts to control your body. You’re connected to electrical sensors that give you information about your body so by making subtle changes, such as relaxing certain muscles, you can achieve the desired results such as reduced pain, less nausea, and/or dizziness.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, helps people become aware of their negative interpretations. Many times people may not even realize they interpret situations in a negative way. CBT can help people develop more positive ways of thinking, which can reduce psychological distress.
- Hypnosis, when used as an adjunct therapy to medical treatment, can help in numerous ways. It can help improve patients attitude toward treatment, improve their outlook and even improve their immune response by addressing past life events and trauma shown by the scientific study of Psychoneuroimmunology to suppress the immune system. It can further help resolve and modify destructive behaviors such smoking cessation, curb food intake of sugar and overall improve treatment outcome by addressing treatment side effects so that patients can complete their treatment regiment.
- Progressive muscle relaxation focuses on slowly tensing and then relaxing each muscle group. This action helps the patient focus on the difference between muscle tension and relaxation. One method is to start with the muscles in your toes and tense then relax them. Do this throughout your entire body all the up to your head. You can also start with your head and neck and work down to your toes. Imagine that when you relax the muscle, all that tension flows out of your body. When you are fearful this gives you something else to focus on and helps you feel the stress in your muscles and then let it go.
Behaviors can change over time with practice. This is not a quick fix but will give you the tools you need to cope with anticipatory anxiety and other challenges you face in life. If you have questions on these treatments, how they are performed, and how they can help you, please contact me right now by email email@example.com or phone 617.564.0707.