By Kristen Carter
Dear Kristen, My question is, what tips could you give to avoid “scanxiety?” I am trying to reduce the stress and anxiety when I hear I have to see another specialist or have more testing completed. A.A.
In the same way we can imagine beautiful futures like a cure for cancer and watching our grandchildren thrive, we can imagine the most horrific futures: progression, painful treatment, devastating side effects, death.
Imagination is a uniquely human
capacity, designed to help us anticipate the future and plan accordingly. But sometimes we imagine the possibilities and let them scare the bejeebers out of us, without taking the next step and doing the planning.
I believe one of the biggest reasons scanxiety is so powerful over our imaginations is that when we fear test results, we not only imagine the worst, we assume that we will not be able to cope with it. That we will be helpless bystanders, and overwhelmed victims of what we learn.
Instead, let’s talk about all the ways you–all of us–can plan and to cope.
What I offer you today is a skill for handling whatever comes your way, one you can use with scan anxiety, seeing a new doctor, having more tests, and even the life stresses that have nothing to do with breast cancer.
Here’s what I recommend
Think about what you have overcome so far in your life. I imagine it’s a lot. Write down a few of those tough situations, leaving a few lines between each one.
Then think about the strengths and inner resources you used to pull you through those hard times. Name and write down any inner assets that helped you cope.
Did you rely on hope? Persistence? Digging for information? Humor? Your spirituality? Courage? Love for your family? The support of friends? Teamwork? Perspective?
These same qualities are the ones that will help you deal with any new challenge that comes your way.
A great way to find out more about your strengths is by taking the VIA Assessment of Character Strengths, which can be done for free at www.viacharacter.org (an inexpensive but very informative report is also available). It’s been taken by more than 15 million people worldwide and is one of my very favorite tools for helping clients discover what makes them strong.
After taking the survey, add some of your new-found strengths to step two, above. Feel how empowering it can be to know that you can tap into all these qualities any time. They are baked into your personality and available at a moment’s notice.
Next time you begin over-imagining the awful things that could happen, remember two things: One: You get to choose the stories you tell yourself, and Two: You are equipped to handle what comes your way.
Wishing you strengths and a calm mind and body, A.A.