There is no denying, living through the coronavirus crisis is frightening. If you are affected by cancer (including relatives and friends), then this can make things a lot harder, as there is so much more to worry about.
Worries and uncertainty about the world, ourselves and our families, our health, financial survival, our cancer, our diagnosis and cancer treatment, even if in remission - all that and more can add up to a great weight on our emotional, mental and physical wellbeing.
Here, emotional wellbeing advisor Karin Sieger shares her top tips for looking after your mental health:
I don’t have a magic wand or step by step guide to make it all go away. If I claimed I had, you would probably not believe me, and rightly so.
But what I can encourage you to do, is to join me and others in taking care of yourself in the knowledge that this will make a positive difference to how you will get through this challenging time.
Here are my Top 3 Tips, which are based on the 3 pillars of our health, also called the health triangle: physical, mental/emotional and social. They are all interconnected: one can strengthen or weaken the rest; all are important. Even when we are ill, this basic rule applies - I would argue even more so!
It is important that you take responsibility for adjusting and shaping my suggestions in a way that fits in best with your own circumstances. In doing so you take charge, make choices and decisions, which will help strengthen your self confidence.
At this unpredictable time, when we all feel vulnerable, because of an illness we may have in our body and a potential illness which is outside of our body and which we can catch, it can all become too much. It can be hard to trust our bodies, those who we expect to help, especially if for a number of reasons we may not get all the help we would get under different circumstances.
Therefore, it is important that we take charge and provide our bodies a predictable structure and routine, including
- Personal hygiene
- Getting dressed every day
- Healthy meals and fluids
- Avoiding stimulants like sugar, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine etc
- Indoor and outdoor nature time and exercise
- Fresh air (open your windows)
- Plenty of rest
- Everything else you can think of.
Mental & Emotional Health
Our mind and heart are powerful instruments. The way we think and feel can shape everything, make situations lighter or heavier. Mental and emotional health is also like a muscle we need to train and exercise, if we want to rely on it supporting us. None of this can be taken for granted or happens over night.
Don't be frightened of feeling anxious, empty and hopeless. These are difficult and depressing times. With the best will in the world we can't always feel motivated and positive. It is a process. Hang in there.
Find activities that keep your mind and heart
- Agile (try crosswords, sudoku, colouring etc)
- Quiet (watch nature, landscape videos online, meditate, sing etc)
- Soothed and positive (good-feel films and movies, music, books etc)
- Creative (art, writing, cooking, baking, gardening etc)
- Inspired and motivated (try affirmations, find inspiring, authentic and ethical people eg the late Louise Hay)
Remember, this shall pass. Every day, you do the best you can. Not every day can be as good as the last one. The power of your mind and heart are important and very much in your hands.
Cancer can make us feel alone and lonely, misunderstood and also difficult to be with. The coronavirus crisis with its lockdown instructions can make us feel even more isolated with little or no human touch and comforts of companionship.
- Keep busy and have constructive distractions by doing any of the above.
- Be generous and altruistic - give, share, encourage. Small gestures go a long way and make us all feel good.
- Stay connected to others by phone, email, letter etc.
- Stay connected to yourself by positive, gentle and soothing self talk, like a mother encouraging a frightened child.
Remember, you do not need to achieve everything in one go. Do not feel a failure and give up, if any of this is hard for you, or you have difficult days, when you can’t or won’t do much or any of this.
Do as much or as little of what you can. It all adds up and is valuable!
With very best wishes for you,
Karin Sieger is a psychotherapist and cancer counsellor based in London. She specialises in support for life changing illnesses, especially cancer and provides support online via Zoom for clients in the UK and abroad. She has been diagnosed with breast cancer twice, and has also lost relatives and friends to the illness. This makes her well placed to understand and assist others in coping with diagnosis, treatment, remission, recurrence, living with cancer, terminal cancer, loss and grief.
Karin holds an MA in Counselling and Psychotherapy, trained and worked in the NHS and is a registered and accredited member of the British Association for Counselling Psychotherapy (BACP). For more information visit KarinSieger.com
Karin is also the emotional wellbeing advisor to the Live Better With Cancer Community. You can talk to her here.