Going through cancer and its treatments causes physical collateral damage, but the debilitating psychological impact of cancer is not as often discussed — particularly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
I know this firsthand, as my readers know.
I’m a card-carrying PTSD member.
I first disclosed my struggles with this disorder a year ago, and have been open about how my cancer trauma resulted in PTSD. For years I hesitated to reveal this aspect of my life, as I know there’s still a stigma associated with mental disorders. Luckily, I’m part of a wonderful online community that has accepted and supported me, and I have many other support systems in place.
Many people with this condition are not so lucky. And that’s why I wrote this post: to help those who find themselves with PTSD and those who may not know how to begin turning their lives around.
This post is proof that someone can live a quality life with this disorder.
Here’s my disclaimer: I’m not a psychology professional; I’m sharing what works for me, and my advice is solely based on my own experiences. This post is not a substitute for professional help. In addition, everyone is different, and methods that work for some may not work for others.
That being said, here’s my list of 10 ways you can cope with PTSD; these are not presented in any particular order of importance, and this list is not all inclusive.
1. Don’t allow the stigma of having a mental disorder imprison you. Seek the help you need. Society can be quite judgmental and attach a stigma to mental disorders, but you need to think of your own psychological needs and take care of yourself. Just as you’ve gone through cancer treatment to hopefully eradicate cancer, it is crucial that you be proactive in your psychological well-being. And it’s up to you whether to share with relatives and friends what you are going through.
2. Reach out to professionals who can help you. This may include a psychiatrist for medication and/or a psychotherapist skilled in treating trauma. Besides medication and traditional cognitive psychotherapy, I’ve worked with my therapist through EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), a treatment used to combat PTSD. It’s been highly effective for me.
3. Practice mindfulness. Slowing down and focusing on our actions or inactions can cause a feeling of serenity. This is a cliche, but you need to savor each moment. As difficult as this is to do while in the throes of depression, try your best to slow down and focus on basic actions, such as eating, moving, or just observing a beautiful seascape.
4. Exercise. People exercise for a variety of reasons, such as losing weight and getting into better shape. These are valid reasons, but I have found exercise to help my mental state. Exercise calms my mind, and I feel mentally and spiritually strong for days after a workout. By “workout,” I mean any kind of exercise your body can handle, depending on your body’s strengths and/or limitations, as well as your desires and goals.
Exercise can include tai chi, yoga, walking, swimming, running, ice skating, dancing, shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, or even cleaning the house. My gym offers aquatic tai chi, and it’s wonderfully gentle. Right now I’m looking for a yoga class I can tolerate: I’m admittedly a three-time yoga-class dropout, but I’m hoping the fourth time is the charm. Particularly, I’m looking to join a yoga group for elderly people.
The key is just to get moving and to be creative with your exercise goals.
I’m convinced that if the endorphins from exercise could be bottled and sold, they would be one of the hottest-selling items.
5. Have an active social life. Stay in touch with friends and family who lift you up. The worst thing one can do is isolate him or herself and open the door to depression and anxiety. Meet a friend for coffee, another one for dinner, and so on.
6. Conversely, avoid toxic people who drain the life out of you. To determine whether someone is too draining for me, I use the metaphor of a cup. My imaginary cup measures how much stress I can take daily; the key is to end each day without the cup being full. I evaluate whether certain people fill up that stress “cup” faster than others. To my dismay, some people have consistently filled my stress cup. They are no longer my friends.
I’ve even ended my affiliation with a breast cancer support group filled with toxic individuals who made my cup runneth over. In fact, I remember a “friend” in this group who stole my time through her negative gossip about others, endless diatribes about her life, and complaints about everything. After I parted ways with her, the quality of my life improved dramatically, and I never looked back.
Toxic family members are often more difficult to avoid. If you can, minimize your precious time with individuals who drain you.
7. Keep a writing, art, or music journal. Use a creative outlet to help you sort out your feelings. Many people do not think of themselves as creatives, but truth is, we all have a spark or two of creativity. Use the medium of your choice regularly, and chances are you will find it cathartic to write, draw, or even sing about your experiences and what is bothering you and lifting you up.
8. Meditate. You can meditate the traditional way, or through creating art, writing, sewing, crocheting, arts and crafts, and/or coloring in the popular coloring books for adults. These are all meditative, relaxing activities. I know I am terrible at traditional meditation, but when I oil paint or write, I am transported to a relaxing place, and I’ve come to realize that my hobbies allow me to meditate my way.
9. Tap into/avoid social media. Social media venues such as Facebook and Twitter help me reach out to other people affected by breast cancer. The online support community is important to me. That being said, too much of a good thing is actually not a good thing. Limit your social media time. If you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, it’s even easier to get overstimulated by social media than the average person.
My goal is to allot certain times for social media, including shutting down all my access to social media and anything technology-related at least two hours prior to bed. Facebook and sleep simply don’t mesh well.
10.Finally, and related to point #9, get enough sleep and rest. Insomnia has historically been my Achilles’ heel, but each year I get better in my sleep goals. Rest is vital for your body and mind. Being short of sleep is a recipe for poor mental health.
These tips are not intended as “quick fixes,” but they can still help anyone who’s coped with trauma. Those with PTSD have to work extra hard to stay mentally healthy. Hopefully, this post will make coping with trauma a bit easier.
Which tip(s) resonate with you the most?
Do you have any advice to add to this list? What helps you spiritually and mentally?
Tags: breast cancer and PTSD, cancer and PTSD, coping with PTSD, exercise and PTSD, meditation, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, sleep, social media