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THREE WAYS TO HEAL EMOTIONAL TRAUMA AND CULTIVATE A HAPPY HEART
B Y G E R I M A R O N E Y
A cancer diagnosis creates a storm of strong emotions, and it forces us to evaluate our lives and our mortality. Within a matter of seconds, life is forever changed. In addition to what our bodies are going through medically, our minds are experiencing extreme trauma, and it does not magically end when the medical treatments do. It actually just begins. Many cancer warriors describe a flood of overwhelming feelings of panic, devastation, confusion, and fear after their cancer surgery or treatments, and they are not sure how to deal with them. They might have “rung the bell” or completed another step of the medical process, but it is at this stage that the flood of strong emotions sometimes manifest is difficult ways. Healing the emotional wounds from a cancer diagnosis is as important as healing the physical wounds so that we can come through this terrible storm “wholly healed”, with body, mind, and spirit in sync. Emotional trauma is difficult to understand and evenmore difficult to heal from. Most people believe that because the event is now in their past, so too are the effects of the trauma. This is not the case. If the difficult emotions are not identified and released in a holistic and healthy way, the trauma stays “stuck” and whole-body healing is not possible. When your brain is in constant stress mode, it trickles down and is normalized throughout the phys- ical body, and in some cases, if the brain does not reset, symptoms of PTSD can appear. According to statistics, nearly 80% of women develop PTSD symptoms after a cancer diagnosis. When trauma is trapped, your body feels it and your brain tries tomake sense of it. The brain doesn’t recognize the difference between physical or emotional danger, it’s all the same to the brain. One example of this is when your heart might physically hurt because of the loss of a loved one. Here are three ways you can help release the trauma from your body. This is a very important step toward being “wholly healed”, so please give yourself permission to move through the process at your own unique pace. Don’t rush it. 1. Write your story. One of the reasons trauma memories get stuck is because we often cannot bear to think about what has happened and so we push our thoughts aside. One way to solve this prob- lem of fragmented thoughts is to write a complete story – take those fragments you keep push- ing aside and write the whole story. You don’t need to focus only on the worst or most traumatic memories of your journey but do take time to write the complete story. Consider starting with the journal prompt “What cancer has taught me”. As the memories start to flow, you will see that the hard feelings become easier to talk about. Writing your story is therapeutic for you and can be a great legacy for your family. Your story can be as private or public as you would like. 2. Grieve your past. Grieving the traumatic event is a great way to move forward and gain new strength. We must grieve our old lives, bodies, thoughts, and expectations so that we can move forward in a healthy way. This takes time. For me, I couldn’t look at my new “after-cancer” body for months. It was just too sad. It brings tears to my eyes even today (five years later), so I suppose I have not completely reconciled my grief. But I have made friends with my body again. This is also an important step so that we can rebuild trust. Thank your body for all it has done for you and create a partnership for the future. Think about all that your body does right. Your body feels your gratitude, so be kind. Negative self-talk is no longer allowed. Ever. Period.
3. Turn your frown upside down. Grief and depressioncan lookquitesimilar andat times it can be difficult to tell them apart. Grief is associated with a loss, where depression colors howwe see life. Depression is many times more persistent than the sadness that often accompanies grief, and it affects howwe view ourselves, our world, and our future. Journaling and the steps described above can often help relieve depression, but in some cases, it may be necessary to speak to your doctor about how you are feeling. Small daily doses of gratitude and joy can help tame the depressionmonster as well. During my recovery, I promised myself that I would start each day naming three things I was grateful for. Sometimes I could only think of obvious ones; 1) that I woke up and 2) that the sun was shin- ing (assuming it was), and 3) that I could get out of bed. But that’s ok, be kind to yourself and celebrate each success, no matter how small you think it is. At this stage of our healing, we are retraining our bodies and minds to find happiness again and it takes time (and patience). Remember that a cancer journey has two important paths; one that is medical and one that is emotional. Don’t side- step the emotional part. Deal with it in a kind and thoughtful way and soon you will realize that you are ready to look to the future with renewed hope and a deeper sense of self-confidence. It’s your time to be Big and Brave! You can do it!
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