Dr. Louise Lubin is a clinical psychologist who has practiced adult, family, and marital therapy for more than 40 years. Her book, “Your Journey beyond Breast Cancer: Tools for the Road” is an interactive guide to restoring, reviving, and rebuilding patients’ lives at any milepost on their breast cancer journey.
In this three-part series, she shares thoughtful tools for taking care of yourself, harnessing fear, and restoring mind, body, and spirit. Read the first part, Using Breath & Awareness to Calm Your Body, here.
After the shock of hearing “you have breast cancer,” you began to focus with determination on the task of choosing and beginning the best treatment. It is only later on this journey that you may realize that your body, but also your mind and spirit, have been reshaped.
Redirect Your Mind
Whether you recognize it or not, you are always talking to yourself. Although this “self-talk” is automatic and subconscious, you can redirect your thinking. You are more than your thoughts.
What is self-talk?
- Self-talk is the running dialogue and thoughts in your mind.
- It is automatic. You rarely notice it or the effect it has on you.
- It appears in shorthand. One short word or image can contain a whole series of thoughts, memories, or associations.
- It always sounds like the truth to you.
“It’s hard to fight an enemy that has outposts in your head.” — Sally Kempton
Your self-talk can be encouraging, or it can be deflating. What you think impacts how you feel. When you are in a state of uncertainty and fear, your self-talk often focuses on what could happen.
The uncertainty of cancer creates “what if” thinking. “What if the treatment doesn’t work?” What if ____ (fill in the blank) can send you down many different dark fearful roads. To focus on what is under your control, you must shift gears.
Remember these words: IT’S NOT WHAT IF, BUT WHAT NOW.
When you start “what if” thinking, gently remind yourself of the above words to bring yourself back to what you can manage right now, in the present moment. Consider putting these words somewhere you can see them as a reminder to focus on what is possible now!
The STOP Tool
The STOP tool is a helpful way to change the spiral of uncertainty. This tool has been a mainstay of my work with all my patients. You can use it anytime you feel caught up in any situation where you want to exercise more control and reason before you react.
The next time you begin to feel anxious or overwhelmed, imagine this stop sign.
S- STOP: As soon as you begin to notice you are feeling anxious, STOP what you are doing. What are your early warning signs? Do you tense up in your body or in your face? Does your breathing change? Do you raise your voice? What exactly do you do? Pay attention when it is happening and remind yourself, “I must pay attention now!”
T- TAKE A BREATH: When you are emotionally upset, your body and thinking are affected and your breathing shortens. When you slow down with some abdominal breathing, you enhance your ability to think clearly and use better judgment. You use different parts of your brain when you are calm rather than fearful. Let yourself exhale and feel your body relax (like the energy that comes from a sigh). You are then better able to respond rather than react.
O – OBSERVE: With more calm and clear thinking, you can begin to sort out your feelings. Ask yourself, “What am I telling myself right now?” “Am I reacting to old patterns?” “What other choices do I have in this situation?” “Is there another way to think about this now?”
P – PRACTICE OTHER CHOICES: When you are open to change, you can sort out what might be possible. Focus on what might work for you. Avoid thinking what is fair or unfair, right or wrong, or should or should not happen when you are sorting out a situation. Try not to evaluate. Acknowledge what is happening, but don’t judge. Try to meet your needs for this specific situation. Keep the focus on what you can do now.
In her final blog (coming soon!), Dr. Louise Lubin offers support for the spirit during your breast cancer journey.