Kicking back, chilling out, taking it easy… anyone dealing with a cancer diagnosis will hear multiple times from many different sources how important it is to relax and de-stress, but talking that talk is oftentimes much easier than walking that walk.
After all, ours is not the most relaxed society on earth. Keeping up at work, school, managing a household, a family, friendships, staying fit, eating healthy are collectively a day-consuming business.
Add into the equation the time we spend commuting, reading, watching television or movies and participating in social media and suddenly the window available to anyone for contemplation, meditation, self-reflection and simply breathing in a mindful way remains almost completely shut.
I know that in my pre-cancer world, relaxation was almost anathema to me. Forever racing through my days, pushing myself physically, professionally, creatively seemed like the only way to really make the most of my time. Even my yoga classes were preceded by a multi-mile run on the treadmill, and the two-minute meditative end to each class was often the hardest two minutes of the entire practice.
And while I’d love to report that being in treatment finally taught me to slow down, the truth is that it was only after I was finished with oncologists and surgeons that I began to understand how important it is to chill and allow myself the time I need to simply, truly relax.
These days, it’s not such a big deal for me to spend 15 minutes in an easy chair thinking about nothing but the music playing on the radio, or the song that’s in my head. But it took years for me to figure out how that little bit of time spent being still could fuel a full day of activity and make it better, brighter, more meaningful.
What I have come to realize is what so many of the experts in Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls advised; being mindful – and grateful – for the life force coursing inside my body was one of the very best ways to keep that life force strong.
It makes such obvious sense: being calm and relaxing my mind meant my muscles would not tense, my heart rate would slow and my tension would ease; and while none of these things would have reversed the malignancy that had invaded my body, they would ultimately have made dealing with the side effects of treatment a lot easier to cope with.
These days, I find that the best way to compensate for a bout of nerves or stress is to take a bit of time to breathe deeply and visualize myself in a warm, nurturing space. If I’m really tense, exercise shifts my head – and my heart – away from difficulties and re-focuses my mind on what’s important: the day, the moment, the fact that I’m here, still alive, still able to be part of the circle of life.
It’s not to say that relaxation is easy or that once cancer strikes the mundane difficulties of life melt away. They don’t. But the ability to cope with life’s challenges improves when we give ourselves the space and the permission to whisk away anxiety, fear, anger and negativity by making a conscious decision to inhale positivity and embrace serenity.
When we do, we find that though an emotional storm may be brewing inside us, the shelter of peace and comfort exists within us, and needs only a personal commitment to seek out that peace that ultimately strengthens our minds and soothes our souls.