Cancer and COVID-19: Tips to Help YOU Cope
2020 has been an interesting year, to say the least! It has been downright stressful for everyone in some way! Let's be honest, most of us did NOT predict there would be a global pandemic in 2020 that would linger for an unknown amount of time.
On top of all that is going on in the world right now, some of you may be fighting the toughest battle of your lives: CANCER. Coping with a cancer diagnosis is tough enough on it's own without adding in the stress of COVID-19 and societal stressors occurring in our country right now. Both cancer and COVID-19 are trauma producing events and can require a period of grief in order to cope.
According to Webster's Online Dictionary, trauma is defined as:
a very difficult or unpleasant experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems usually for a long time. medical : a serious injury to a person's body.
Trauma causes a person to grieve.
Below is a depiction of Kubler Ross's 5 Stages of Grief:
We typically think of stages as occurring in sequence, but these can occur simultaneously or someone can identify with one of these more than another.
In the midst of the social distancing, with respect to chemotherapy and/or COVID-19, mental health concerns are at an all time high. According to Mental Health America, anxiety and depression numbers are on the rise due to COVID-19. Depression and a diagnosis of breast cancer, often go hand in hand as well. In a recent study, 69.4% of breast cancer study participants had serious levels of depression.
Knowing this, we all have to ban together to find ways to cope with the trauma we are experiencing.
According to Karen Whitehead Counseling, LLC, our usual ways of coping prior to a cancer diagnosis and COVID-19 may not look the same, but we can modify them so they can still give us a similar sense of satisfaction and fulfillment as they did prior to the pandemic and cancer.
Physical: exercise classes, yoga, stretching
Emotional: Identifying and expressing emotions
Social: Connecting with individuals
Spiritual: Feeding soul, journaling, meditation
Professional: set clear boundaries with work and free time
Physical Coping, Cancer and COVID-19
Since Be Strong Therapy's aim is to improve quality of life through physical wellness, we want to provide practical ways you can physically cope throughout your cancer journey and COVID-19.
Mental and physical health often go hand in hand. Physical activity has been shown to improve mood, confidence and enhance overall general health.
Studies have shown that a combination of strength training and cardiovascular exercise increases endorphins and can act as well as a low-dose antidepressant, without the negative side effects. Just 15 minutes of exercise releases hormones such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine that can positively impact mood.
Dopamine reduces stress and depression. This is the same hormone responsible for the "runners high" feeling that most runners have experienced. The good news for those of you who aren't too fond of running, is this same effect can be achieved by short term exercise that elevates your heart rate.
Serotonin is another mood-impacting hormone released during exercise. Increased serotonin levels can positively impact mood, regulate anxiety and maintain bone health.
Norepinephrine has been shown to increase alertness and arousal and speed reaction time as well as to increase a person's mood and ability to concentrate.
How Do I Stick with It?
We all inherently know that exercise is good for us, but how do we make it a regular part of our lives during these crazy times? This is the million dollar question! These five steps will help you to physically cope and in turn help to improve your overall mood!
1. Set Goals:
Exercise goals should NOT solely be based on the numbers on the scale. Having a performance goal to work toward will boost mood and sense of accomplishment when your goal is met. Choosing activities you enjoy will help you to be more consistent.
Examples of performance based goals include:
Running a 5K- there are many virtual 5K options available that will help to maintain social distancing. Don't worry, you will still get a bib and a medal!
Lifting more weight when doing dead lifts, bicep curls and any other lifting technique you enjoy
Playing golf and walking the 18 holes, instead of using a cart
Being able to walk 2 miles while having a conversation with friend (keep in mind maintaining social distancing)
Completing a 90 day exercise program: there are many prepackaged at-home programs available
You'll want to create goals that are realistic and achievable. When going through chemotherapy, your goals may not seem like much, but it's still important to set them and have something you are working toward.
2. Create a Plan to Help Reach Your Goals
Outlining a detailed daily plan to help achieve your goals is important. You won't be able to achieve your overall goal without a daily plan. It's the small steps toward your goal that will help you to achieve your overall goal!
It sounds crazy, but while training for a marathon last year, I created an excel spread sheet of each day leading up to race day and what activity I needed to do each day. This helped me to achieve smaller, daily and weekly goals, that lead up to me being able to achieve my larger goal of running a marathon. This helped the overall goal not seem so insurmountable.
3. Be Determined to Meet your Goals
This sounds like a no-brainer, but you'll need to have resolve that comes from within in order to meet your goals. It has to be personal and measurable. Once your goal is achieved, you will have an amazing sense of accomplishment. After completing my first marathon in 2018, I had never felt more accomplished and determined. I had set out to do something, and it didn't just happen. It happened because I had a plan and was determined to meet my goal! Many 4 am runs with friends had lead to this moment!
4. Tell People About your Goals
Telling friends and family about your overall goal will help to increase accountability. Close friends and family tend to ask how your goals are progressing. Let's be honest, if you know someone will ask you if you've done something, the chances are much higher that you'll do that thing. For instance, your dentist tells you how important it is for you to floss regularly. How many of us brush and floss right before we go to the dentist, so we can answer YES to the flossing question?
5. Celebrate Your Achievement
It is important to reward yourself after your goal is met! It does not have to be a huge reward, but you deserve to acknowledge the determination and resolve it took to meet your goal!
It's also important to remember to give yourself grace when battling cancer, especially through COVID-19. You WILL have good days and bad days. It is important to let yourself have bad days, but make sure you "get back on the wagon" and press on toward meeting your goals.
If you have questions, or would like to discuss your cancer journey further, please do not hesitate to contact us at Be Strong Therapy Services at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 850-270-7374. We are here to help YOU live the life you want to live!
Karen Whitehead Counseling, LLC through The Turning Point Breast Cancer Care