How to Love Yourself Through Cancer or Any Other Terrifying Diagnosis

“If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm.” ~Frank Lane

One minute your life is just humming along, and out of nowhere you’re hit with a devastating diagnosis. Cancer.

Believe me, I know what it’s like to get the news you have cancer and to live with the trauma that follows, because I’m not only a licensed psychotherapist, I’ve been treated for both breast cancer and leukemia.

I know how that diagnosis changes everything. I know how the world around you can still look the same, but suddenly you feel like a stranger in your own life.

You have trouble getting up in the morning. You have trouble getting to sleep. When you finally get to sleep you’re jolted awake by nightmares. Or maybe you sleep all the time. You can’t eat, or you can’t stop eating.

You’re drinking too much. You’re smoking too much. You’re terrified, exhausted, and have no idea how you’re going to get through the next few hours, let alone the days, or weeks ahead.

When I was going through chemo for breast cancer, I read all the books about surviving cancer I could get my hands on. I talked to my oncologist and to other women going through the same thing, trying to find the way to “do cancer right.”

I worried myself sick that I would get things wrong, until a friend said, “You know, everybody does things differently. Just find what works for you, and do that.” Those words changed everything for me.

I realized there wasn’t “a right way” to do cancer. There was just the way that worked best for me.

I believe it’s the same for you. No matter what kind of diagnosis you’re facing, it’s up to you to find what works for you and do that.

To get you through those tough first days, I’m offering you some thoughts and techniques that worked for me. I hope some of them will work for you, too.

Be Gentle With Yourself

When you’re going through a tough time, you may not have the time or energy keep up your usual self-care routine. So, why not let the big things go and start looking for little things you can do instead?

If you can’t get to the gym, go out for a ten-minute walk at lunch. If you don’t have time to cook a nutritious dinner, add a salad or vegetable to your take-out order.

Instead of trying to check things off your to-do list, think of ways to make life easier for yourself. If you don’t have time to do something yourself, hire someone, or ask for help.

Focus on what’s best for you, and that means speaking up for yourself. If you don’t have the time or energy to do something, say “no,” and don’t feel guilty about it.

Find the Joy

Be sure to do something you love every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes: sit on a beach, gaze at the stars, read a book, go for a walk, watch a funny You Tube video or TV show. Smile when you can and laugh as often as possible, because laughter connects you with the world in a way that eases anxiety and heals the heart.

Affirm Courage, Love, and Safety

What you say to yourself matters. And when you’re going through a tough time, positive self-talk can make a real difference in how you think and feel.

When I was struggling to find even one positive thought, I found it really helpful to focus on powerful affirmations instead. So, if you find yourself spiraling downward into the depths of negativity, try the following process to break that cycle.

Healing Affirmations

Begin by saying your name out loud. Then remind yourself that you’re safe and secure in the moment. Let that feeling soak all the way in to your belly and your bones.

Once you feel safe, affirm:

“I have the spirit, will, and courage to meet any challenge ahead.”

“I can handle anything, one step at a time.”

“I am always surrounded and protected by light and love.”

“I speak to myself with loving kindness. I treat myself with loving kindness. I care for myself with loving kindness.”

“I am always moving in a positive direction toward a positive future.”

“I am safe.”

End by promising you will always treasure yourself and honor your beautiful spirit. Affirm courage, love, and safety.

Nourish Yourself

Experts recommend eating well, and eliminating sugary and processed foods, alcohol, and caffeine when you’re under stress.

But maybe you’re having trouble eating anything at all. Or maybe you’re living on chicken noodle soup, pretzels, and chocolate doughnuts.

Please, give yourself a break. When you’re going through a traumatic experience it’s no time to be following a strict diet or to beat yourself for not eating a balanced diet. Instead, focus on making healthy food choices when you can, and letting go of judgment when you can’t.

If you find you’re having trouble eating, choose foods you can tolerate and enjoy smaller portions more often through the day.

If you’re over eating, try eating fruits and vegetables first. Commit to eating only when you’re sitting down. Focus on eating more slowly.

But if you’ve tried everything you can think of and are still struggling with food, please let your health care provider know what ‘s going on. They’re there to give you support and help in all aspects of your health care.

Rest

A good night’s sleep is an important part of healing your body, mind, and spirit, but if you’re struggling to get enough sleep there are a number of things you can do.

Try going to bed an hour earlier each night. The extra time in bed can give your body some needed rest.

Once you’re in bed, do your best to keep your focus off your troubles. Relive happy memories, or imagine yourself vacationing in a place where you can relax and enjoy.

If you haven’t fallen asleep after twenty minutes, get up and do something calming. Write in your journal, do a crossword puzzle, or sip a cup of herbal tea.

Finally, if you aren’t able to get enough sleep at night, take a nap during the day. Make it a non-negotiable part of your daily schedule. If time is an issue, try scheduling all your activities and responsibilities before lunch, leaving your afternoon for napping or resting.

Seek Support

It’s important not to go through this alone. And asking for help is a sign of strength and courage, not weakness.

When things get rough, call a friend or a family member and ask for support and help.

If you’re completely overwhelmed and don’t know where to turn, consider getting some professional help. Talking to a mental health provider can give you new insight, hope, and bring you peace.

Finally, you may also want to consider working with a support group. There’s great power in knowing you’re not the only one suffering this kind of challenge. There are people who are in the same boat and know exactly how you feel. They may be able to offer comfort and advice in the days ahead.

Give

Giving is another powerful way to connect with the people around you. It reminds you of the gifts you still have, and that you’re not the only one going through a tough time.

There are lots of ways to lend a hand. Offer to drive a neighbor to a medical appointment. Walk the dogs at your local animal shelter. Write a check to your favorite charity or drop a few coins in the donation can as you pass by. Send a card or text to a friend to help them through the day.

If you’d like to make a longer term commitment, volunteer at your local library, food bank, or senior center.

And if you think you don’t have any energy or time or left to give, give a compliment. Share a smile or a kind word. You never know how that one small gift could change a life.

Give Yourself a Healing Hug

Hugging is a way to give yourself comfort and peace in the middle of any storm. Acupressure is a powerful way to bring ease to both body and spirit.

I combine both techniques in what I call a healing hug, and highly recommend it to ease fear and panic that can be a part of these tough days.

Begin by crossing your arms over your chest. There are two important acupressure points located in the soft tissue just under your collarbones called the “letting go” points.

Chances are that by crossing your arms, your fingertips have landed on those “letting go” points. Take a moment and feel around until you find the spots, about two inches above your armpit crease and an inch inward.

Once you’re found the points, pull your arms close around you in a comforting, self-hug, and gently massage those “letting go” points with your fingertips. Continue to breathe, noticing on each exhale how the tension and fear flow down your spine and out of your body.

No matter how difficult or scary your diagnosis, treating yourself with love and kindness will make the journey through the those first tough days easier, and give you a head start on enjoying the sunshine waiting for you on the other side.

About Wendy Leeds

Wendy Leeds is a psychotherapist and a cancer survivor. She knows what it’s like to face anxiety and trauma, and she’s working on a book to share her experience and expertise. Wendy’s CD, Creating A Calm Day, is available on Amazon here. Wendy offers the gift of her B.E.A.R. technique for handling panic on her website, wendyleeds.com. Join Wendy on Facebook at @WendyLeedsKeepingCalm.

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How Highly Sensitive People Can Feel More Fulfilled in Their Relationships

“Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, yet each one can be true.” ~Swami Vivekananda

Highly sensitive people naturally bring some really beautiful, love-promoting qualities to their romantic partnerships. But these same qualities can sometimes end up undermining the strength of the relationship. This was true for me in my first marriage and led, in part, to it ending in divorce.

We HSPs are known for our caring, conscientious, and considerate natures. It matters deeply to us that we do our best to be loyal and caring in our relationships.

And because we tend to have high standards for ourselves, and work hard at being kind supportive friends and lovers, we often successfully create strong intimate bonds with others.

We also have a knack for being aware of the needs of others. Our ability to pick up on subtle cues makes them feel deeply understood and cared for. On top of all of this, we tend to think deeply about our love relationships, giving them much of our mental and emotional energy.

This is all really wonderful for the lucky partner of a highly sensitive person. It’s part of why they felt drawn to you and nurtured, safe, and loved with you. But, things can go downhill fast when our significant other doesn’t behave the same way.

It’s human nature to be unable to deeply understand what it’s like to live another’s experience. Though HSP’s tend to be quite empathic, it’s still nearly impossible to really see through our partners’ eyes. This can be the source of so much pain.

In my first marriage, I often wondered why I seemed to be the one to show more interest in the health of the relationship. I would ask myself things like, “How can he be okay with going to bed when things aren’t resolved between us?” “Does he even notice I’m sad?” “Doesn’t he want to help me feel better?” “What’s wrong with him that he doesn’t think to offer some kind words?”

Because those were things I naturally did for him.

Those high standards I had for myself about relationships? I had them for him, too. When he didn’t meet my ideas about how we should be with each other, I would think something was wrong.

I’d think his lack of consideration and awareness meant he didn’t love me as much as I loved him, that maybe I wasn’t enough for him. Thinking that really hurt.

That pain, unfortunately, only led to me acting far below my own high standards for myself. Because when we humans feel hurt, we say and do things we wouldn’t otherwise.

I’d complain, maybe curl up and cry, or give him the cold shoulder. I’d point out how he was falling short, question why —if he really loved me— he wasn’t more affectionate, more aware of my feelings, more interested in resolving issues—in short, more like I was naturally (well, when I wasn’t upset!).

We’d end up in long conversations that never concluded satisfactorily. He’d end up feeling like he wasn’t doing good enough.

Because I was aware of subtle shifts in him, I could see how badly I was affecting him. And that would only lead to me feeling guilty and bad about myself, which made things even worse. It seemed like a rock and a hard place that we didn’t know how to get out of. After many years of this, we ended our marriage.

What a wake up call! Since then I’ve learned so much and changed my life in major ways, and learned to work with my high sensitivity in ways that not only support me, but also my romantic relationship. I am now very happily remarried.

Though I had to learn the hard way, I now have a lot to share with others about how to have a mutually loving, supportive, and connected intimate relationship as an HSP.

Assuming you're in a healthy, non-abusive relationship, these three tips can help you feel more fulfilled in love and be an amazing life partner.

1. Honor differences, yours and theirs!

Just as they must learn to accept our sensitive natures, we must understand that others may not have our superpowers of high conscientiousness, deep caring attentiveness to others, and the uncanny ability to know just what they most need to feel good.

They may not want to resolve issues as thoroughly as we do, because they may not feel things as intensely and as long as you do. They might not enjoy processing or getting to the heart of the matter the way you do—it may even make them really uncomfortable.

All this can be especially true if your partner’s male, because of some big brain and cultural differences between males’ and females’ approach to relating with others. So he may not be attuned to the play of emotion across your face—or quick to try to make things right for you.

If you fight to change his brain’s wiring, you’re fighting a losing battle. Instead, when you feel like you know better than he does about how to love well, remind yourself, it's not better, it's just different.

3. Stop holding your partner to unreachable standards.

Apples will never be as juicy as watermelon! But you can’t make a great pie out of watermelon.

When I let go of my own high, unrealistic standards and stop comparing I can actually see the way he does show his care and is loving me. Which is what we all ultimately want: to feel cherished and supported.

Maybe your partner doesn't read your mind and give you that hug when you want it most, but he does make kind gestures like offering to take the kids so you can have some quiet time to yourself, or she invites you on some adventure she's excited about. Look for and enjoy the different gifts your partner brings to the relationship. Let them spice up your life.

Would you really want a clone of yourself for a partner, anyway?

3. Attend to yourself.

We need to keep coming back to giving ourselves loving attention, especially as HSPs.

When I don’t, I feel empty and needy, and tend to look to my husband to fix it. Which often backfires and I feel even worse.

When I get complainy or needy or act in ways I don’t like, I know it means I need to pause and notice what I really need. And that take action on it. If it’s something my husband can do for me, I can always ask lovingly for it, without expecting he’ll be willing or able.

So let them be who they are, and take care of who you are. Nothing fills us up like self-appreciation and caring for yourself the way you like to care for others.

My love life changed so much once I deeply understood that my way is just One Way, not The Way to express love for another human being. I can now really feel and appreciate my husband’s unique ways of loving me, and I receive them as big gifts. That allows me to feel truly fulfilled and to easily reciprocate to my sweet husband—in my own unique and special way.

About Hannah Brooks

Hannah Brooks is a Relationship Coach who helps caring, sensitive, deep-feeling women create the supportive, loving, and genuinely connected relationship they really want with their partner. For further tips and guidance check our her free toolkit, 3 Essential Steps to a More Loving Relationship, Even When You Feel Irritable, Resentful, or Disconnected. Find her at lifeisworthloving.com.

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