Don't let your brain 'spin on worry'

The Cranston Herald ·

Editor’s note: Susan Groh, a cancer survivor and Warwick resident, provided these thoughtful suggestions for these difficult times.

I know this pandemic has us all feeling nervous and unsettled, and a bit like we’ve stepped into an alternate universe. I also know that if we do the right things, we’ll get through it. Living in isolation, fearing unseen germs is familiar to me, and likely to many other cancer survivors. I lived through an entire year of social distancing, in fact very extreme isolation, as I recovered from leukemia and held onto the hope that the stem cell transplant I’d received could grow into a healthy new immune system and a chance to survive. I learned a few tricks during my year of vulnerability and isolation. I’m sharing them in hopes that they will help you now.

Don’t get me wrong, this pandemic scares me too. This time around in isolation, I’m not just worried about my health, I’m worried about yours, and in fact the health of the world. Here’s what got me through isolation before, and what I’m reminding myself to do now:

1)Listen to the healthcare professionals! Do what they tell you! That means social distancing and good practices like handwashing and not touching your face. I can’t count the number of times doctors and nurses warned me not to touch my face as I underwent treatment. It really is an easy way for germs to take hold. This virus may be new, but doctors know a great deal about transmission. Trust them!

2)Stress and worry take a toll on your energy. I’m not sick this time around thank God, but I find I’m not getting as much done as I think I should. I remember that feeling. A constant level of worry slows you down, makes you feel tired and less productive and that’s okay. Recognize it. Set small goals for yourself each day. If you accomplish one or two things on your list, you’ve had a successful day.

3)Be more gentle with yourself, take better care of yourself than you ever have in your life. It makes all the difference.

4)Stay informed, but then turn off the news. Skip the horror shows and scary movies. Don’t watch things where people get hurt or are in danger. Instead, choose comedies, light, happy books and movies. They’ll lift your spirits and ease your worries.

5)Find a worry buddy and take turns. We are living through scary times. On nights when I was going through treatment and couldn’t sleep, my husband would tell me it was “his turn to worry” and I could rest for awhile. Somehow knowing someone else was taking over the worry for awhile, allowed me to sleep.

6)Be mindful of what you expose your brain to before bed. (Something I have to remind myself!) If you’re scrolling through the headlines before you turn off the light, expect a restless night. Instead, listen to calming music or a meditation or read something uplifting. You’ll sleep better.

7)If the worry monster shows up and disrupts your sleep, acknowledge it and remind yourself that you’re ok. Think about positive steps you can take to make things better. Try deep breathing and focus on a few words that calm you with every inhalation and exhalation. Try meditation. Focus on relaxing the muscles in your body, starting with your toes and working up while you let go of the tension you feel. If the worry still won’t go away, read for awhile. Not the headlines, but something calming to distract your brain. If you end up reading for hours, or finally plugging in your earbuds and watching Netflix, it’s okay. Plan to nap or go to bed early the next night. The whole trick is not letting your brain spin on worry.

8)Eat healthy food and get some exercise. If we can avoid this virus, there’s no reason we can’t come through this stronger and healthier than ever.

9)Do the things you’ve always enjoyed but never find time for. I’m making time to play the piano, learn French and do some reading and writing. Things I never get to during my busy work life.

10)Connect with people you care about and tell them you’re thinking of them. It will lift their sprits and yours.

11)Tell those you love, how much they mean to you. What better time to do this?

12)Don’t take your stress out on others. Practice being kind. Kindness is contagious.

13)Get some fresh air. When I was healing, I walked to regain my strength, and yes, I kept my distance from others. I still appreciate the neighbors who would see me, walk to the other side of the road so they weren’t too close, smile and say hi, knowing my immune system was fragile. It’s not so different now. We can protect each other by keeping our distance.

14)Look for the helpers and let them know how much you appreciate them. They could be doctors, nurses, or the grocery store clerk. There are heroes all around us.

15)Look for the beauty around you. I remember waking up each morning, surprised and grateful to still be alive, and listening to the birds as they started singing just before sunrise. I still love waking up early to hear them welcoming the new day.

16)Take control where you can. This is so important when you’re in the middle of circumstances that feel out of control. Nearly 8 years ago, I took control by refusing to wear hospital gowns and wearing my own clothes instead, and by decorating my hospital room with inspirational posters and keeping soft music playing. Now I’m exercising control over my environment, cleaning drawers and closets, tackling weeds and garden work. Seeing tangible progress makes me feel more in charge of my own life.

17)Wipe down doorknobs, faucets and countertops with Lysol wipes. Be mindful of what you bring in the house. Leave your shoes by the door and take precautions to minimize your exposure to germs.

18)Take control of your emotions and thoughts too. Be in charge of them. It’s so much better than feeling like a victim. We may not be able to control our circumstances right now, but we can control how we react to them.

19)Remember that you’re okay. Right now, in this moment, you’re fine. Hold onto that.

20)Look for ways to help others. It helps you set aside your own worry and makes the world a better place.

21)Share your talents and make the world a little more beautiful in whatever way you can – whether it’s planting flowers, writing a song or poem or just sprucing things up.

22)Have some fun. Make a point of laughing, singing, finding joy, and share it. A sign in my kitchen reminds me that “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

23)I know there are a lot of places you’d like to go, and lots of things you’d like to be doing right now. This time we’re living through will pass. (The more we isolate, the quicker). When I was told I’d have to isolate for a year, that sounded like forever, but it wasn’t. I got through it. You will too. When I look back on it, it was among the most peaceful times in my life and made me appreciate everything that came after that so much more! I made time to do things I enjoyed, I took naps, and spent time with people I loved. We have that same opportunity now.

Take good care. Let’s heal the world together by staying apart, so we can see each other again soon!