Cancer and Mental Health

Any serious physical illness can impact mental health to a great degree. For patients, their loved ones, caregivers etc., this can be a devastating experience. Receiving a potentially fatal diagnosis, going through treatment protocols and learning to live with a condition such as cancer will not only affect your physical body but also your mental health.

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It is common for cancer patients to undergo a series of thought processes such as feelings of shock, disbelief, avoidance, anger, guilt and blame, feeling alone, loss of control and independence, loss of confidence, sadness and depression, withdrawal, isolation, fear and so on. All these thoughts directly or indirectly cause them significant personal distress in addition to the physical pain they undergo. How one cope with these thoughts and feelings depend upon ones’ own personality type, how advanced ones’ cancer is, the treatment one is receiving and how much support there is around the person. For example, certain cancer treatments could cause depression.; a side effect of chemotherapy, known as chemo brain can cause intense fatigue, mental fog, depression and other forms of cognitive impairment.

According to a research done in University of Leipzig in Germany, one in three people diagnosed with cancer also ends up coping with a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression.

However what is important to be known is that, this can be countered. Psychotherapy with an experienced therapist or psychologist can be helpful in terms of providing a listening ear and giving guidance from the start to a diagnosed patient. Mindfulness based cognitive therapies and mindfulness based stress reduction have also been proven to be highly effective countering the stress and negative thoughts, and increasing positive and more optimistic thoughts, which in turn would improve the patients quality of life.

Mental health treatment should be an integrative part of caring for both the patient and those around them. With the support available in counseling and psychotherapy, no patient or their loved ones need to suffer in silence. By seeking treatment for mental health conditions, patients will be able to better carry on with the healing process and loved ones and caregivers will be better able to fulfill their personal needs and the needs of the patient.

In todays world, with all it’s advancements, it your turn to take a step forward. So if you or a loved one is suffering from a diagnosis of cancer, don’t be afraid to seek help. Reach out, Be aware. Take action.

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-Kavitha Amaratunga

Strive for progress.Not perfection.

Ever held yourself back from doing something that you’d like to do because you’re afraid of what others would think? Be honest with yourself, how often have you done this, and how much have you missed out on because of this? A lot of the time, it’s just you doubting yourself. You don’t need to worry about and try to change what others think about you. You just need to change what you think of yourself. People often think that in order to have self-esteem they need to be popular, have a great body, or accomplish something great. Self-esteem does not come from having fantastic abilities, it comes from accepting your strengths and weaknesses, and living secure in that knowledge. Once you accept and appreciate yourself – flaws and all, it’ll open you to so much of new experience.

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You find yourself relishing new challenges when you have high self-esteem. You may not necessarily perform exceedingly well, but you are all out to give it a go. Stepping out of your comfort zone is healthy because you discover new capabilities and build on hidden skills. If you discover that something is not really your strong suit, that’s perfectly aright because no one is good at everything. When you have better self-esteem, you can be yourself instead of struggling to change yourself to meet the expectations of others. It just makes your life easier when you feel no shame in being you. You know that others will not always agree with you and that it’s fine. You are fine with others disagreeing with you because you know that everyone is entitled to their own opinions. You are able to confidently articulate your views without feeling the need to concede out of fear of being rejected. Furthermore, when you have high self-esteem you are more forgiving of yourself and others around you because you realise that everyone is fallible. Anger is not held onto and you deal with conflicts in a dignified manner.

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Increasing self-esteem may be easier said than done. “I don’t get good grades”, “I haven’t got a molecule of athleticism in me”, “I’m not a pleasing sight”, “I’m the most boring person ever”, “I’m awkward” you might say. How would you feel if I reminded you that almost everyone you meet has their own insecurities and flaws? You are not alone. Yet you worry that your tiny flaw is massive and on display for everyone to analyse and criticise. In social psychology this is a phenomenon called the “spotlight effect”. You get a blemish on your chin and you immediately worry that people talking to you will just stare at it and fixate on how disgusting it is. Chances are that they haven’t even noticed it, that is of course, until you feel the need to point it out to this person and fuss about how embarrassing and disgusting it must look. Everyone tends to overestimate the extent to which others notice their flaws.

So how exactly do you improve your self-esteem and change to a positive perception of yourself?

 

  1. Identify your strengths and weaknesses

The first step to improve your self-esteem is to figure out what you think of yourself at the moment. Be completely honest with yourself instead of making general statements like “I suck” or “I can’t do anything”, because those are convincing lies. Keep in mind that your flaws do not amount to the core of your identity. Write down a list of 10 strengths and 10 weaknesses you have. If you have poor self-esteem, filling up the list of strengths might be very difficult. Nothing is too small or stupid to write down in your list of strengths. Are you a good cook? Do you love being neat? Are you a good listener? What have others said about you? Once you write them all down, you’ll have a list of what you think you suck at and a list of what you don’t suck at.

 

  1. Work on your weaknesses

From your list of weaknesses, identify which ones you might be able to change. Set realistic goals, work on the weaknesses one by one.  Make sure you give yourself enough time to change, don’t expect to change overnight. It is important that you have realistic expectations or you’ll end up berating yourself for having not met them. Through trying to improve your self-esteem, you are not striving for perfection, so do not be disappointed if there are weaknesses you cannot change. And don’t be disheartened when others criticize your weaknesses, their criticisms should not affect how you view yourself.

 

  1. Reduce negative thoughts about yourself

 

Stop criticizing yourself. You probably criticize yourself more than others criticize you. This needs to stop. Once you set ridiculous standards for yourself you end up in a vicious cycle of negative thinking. I’m not saying you shouldn’t aim far, I’m saying if your expectations keep disappointing you, maybe you should review them. Accept that perfection is unreachable for anybody on the face of the earth. You’ll never have the perfect body or the perfect life. Don’t be deceived by the idea of perfection that media and society feeds you with, it’s an illusion. So reduce the negative criticism and praise yourself more often. Feel proud of even the littlest accomplishment instead of devaluing them by saying “anyone could do it, it’s no big deal”. Even when you make mistakes (like everyone else does), use them as an opportunity for growth instead of belittling yourself.

 

  1. Try new things

 

Open yourself to completely new experiences. Look for new opportunities, new friendships, challenges, viewpoints and thoughts. Be comfortable with exploring yourself. When you feel down you may feel that you have nothing to offer to others or the world. This may simply be because you don’t know what you’re capable of yet. So go ahead and consider things you haven’t yet thought of. Take risks and get to know yourself better.

 

  1. Compete against yourself, not others

 

Stop comparing yourself to that guy who has thousands of facebook friends, or that girl with the hourglass figure, that genius who wins everything, or that rich person who has everything. The reason you should stop comparing yourself to others is that you don’t know everything about their lives. Maybe that guy who has thousands of friends on facebook has poor relationships in real life, or the girl with the hour glass figure has to survive on salad to maintain it, or the genius does nothing but study all day, or the rich person was born with a silver spoon in their mouth and doesn’t know how to make it big on their own. So don’t compete with others who may be worse off than you, compete with yourself and each day try to produce a better version of YOU.

 

 

Improving your self-esteem is no easy task, it takes time, patience and effort. However it’s worth the effort when the end result is self-acceptance and happiness.

-Jessica De Silva

When panic sets in

Panic attacks usually don’t come with a warning. It slowly sneaks itself up on you and then you get lost in it. So many things are happening to you at the same time, you lose focus and it becomes overwhelming within seconds. According to James Gross, a panic attack is defined as a sudden episode of terrifying bodily symptoms such as labored breathing, choking, dizziness, tingling hands and feet, sweating, trembling, heart palpitations, and chest pain.

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The Scream (1893) by Edvard Munch vividly illustrates the overwhelming anxiety associated with panic attacks. Munch himself is thought to have suffered from bipolar disorder.

 

Anna’s experience with panic attack.

Anna encountered her first panic attack during her A ‘level’s first examination. She is a studious girl who had prepared well in hopes of achieving a position among the top ten. The night before the exam she found it difficult to sleep. The stress of the examination kept her twisting and turning in her bed sleepless. The next morning as she sat down to do her exam, she found it hard to breath. She could not see properly and she felt like her head was spinning. Her heart was racing at the same time she was sweating. She held on to her desk for dear life. She was unaware of what was going on around her. Finally when the episode passed she was left shaken and exhausted.

She had her next episode after two weeks and since then she has been in fear of getting a panic attack. She has been avoiding her friends and refusing to go out since the attacks have become frequent. She did not want to leave the house since she did not want to have an attack in public. She has slowly isolated herself due to the fear of the panic attacks that crawls up on her. 

 

Panic attacks are frightening in itself, it is also fear-provoking, even the mere thought of having a panic attack can be appalling. As a result of this, people who suffer from panic attacks are more prone to develop agoraphobia. They fear having an attack especially in public places where it could be embarrassing or having an attack while doing something completely normal like driving a car. Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations in which help may not be available or it could become embarrassing for the person.

Here are some tips that can help a person through a panic attack

  • Simple breathing exercise – take a deep breath and hold. The breath should be deep and reach your lungs. Count to ten and slowly breathe out. Do this until you feel your breathing is under control.
  • Take a walk outside – if you find yourself having a panic attack inside a room full of people, stepping outside and taking a breath of fresh air would help. Slow walking with focused breathing will give some ease.
  • Stay present in the ‘here and now’- Focus on what you were doing while you were having the panic attack. Focus on the sensations; the fabric of your clothing, the heaviness of your shoes etc. Return to your rational mind and allow yourself to think clearly.
  • Expose yourself to panic symptoms- After experiencing a panic attack, some people develop a fear of panic attack themselves. Mimic the symptoms you experience while you have a panic attack and do them in your own control. Realize that you are in no danger and that no harm will come to you.

Your panic attacks can be stopped in their tracks; in fact, they want to be. Your body doesn’t want to waste needless energy. Use these techniques and get help, before long, you’ll have your first experience of stopping a panic attack before it even gets started. And that will be a very, very nice feeling indeed.

-Fathimath Maisha

‘Learned helplessness’.. It’s just a matter of ABC!

“When we encounter ADVERSITY, we react by thinking about it. Our thoughts rapidly congeal into BELIEFS. These beliefs may become so habitual we don’t even realize we have them unless we stop to focus on them. And they don’t just sit there idly; they have CONSEQUENCES. The beliefs are the direct cause of what we feel and what we do next. They can spell the difference between dejection and giving up, on the one hand, and well-being and constructive action on the other. The first step is to see the connection between adversity, belief, and consequence. The second step is to see how the ABCs operate every day in your own life.”

-Martin Seligman

Learned helplessness is when a person believes that they have no control over a situation. So, they think about avoiding failure rather than wanting to succeed. American psychologist Martin Seligman (1965) discovered learnt helplessness while studying the behavior of dogs. In his experiment, Seligman would ring a bell during which the dog would receive an electric shock. After a number of times, the dog would react to the shock even before it happened. Later, the dog was put into a large crate that was divided down the middle with a low fence. The floor on one side of the fence was electrified but, not the other. When the dog received the electric shock he expected it to jump over to the non-shocking side of the fence instead, the dog laid down. From the first part of the experiment, the dog had ‘learned’ that there was nothing it could do to escape the shock hence, it gave up. Seligman termed this condition as “learned helplessness”. The dog could have jumped to the other side of the crate and escaped the shock but it learned otherwise.

This kind of behavior pattern has been noted in humans while being exposed to punishments or discomforts in life. The way people view negative events that happen to them has an impact on whether they feel helpless or not.

Untitle.jpgLearned helplessness is a condition in which one thinks that they have no control over their life and suffer from a sense of powerlessness caused by a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed. As humans we do this to ourselves because the fear of failing is so high that we do not even want to try and at some point we start justifying it. “I cannot do this”, “It is my fault”, “I deserve this”, “It will always be like this”, “This is my life” are some of the most commonly used justifications.

There are a number of things we can do to overcome learned helplessness.

  • Re-phrase your self-beliefs – For example, if you believe you want to do something but it is harder than you thought, instead of thinking “It’s hard therefore, I cannot do this and I should give up”, you should re-phrase your belief and think “Ok, it is harder than I thought but I still want to do this” or “I want to this and so there has to be a way. If this is hard what other option could I try? ”.
  • Understand the difference between choosing and acting – Choosing to do something and acting upon something are two different things. You have to act on a choice you make in order for it to be successful. For example,

– leaving your house means picking your bags and moving into another house not telling others that you are looking for a new house.

– throwing a party means organizing the place and sending out invites not asking others for a preferred date or location.

  • Most importantly stop justifying, stop thinking about it and start acting on it.

Learned helplessness makes a person believe that they are powerless and leads them to make poor choices that worsen the situation, eventually leading to depression. It leads them to believe that any negative event that occurs in their life is beyond their control and so, they stop trying to change it. Even when prevented with an opportunity to escape they do not take any action.

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There is only one way to understand learned helplessness. You should know that whatever you learn can be unlearned. You can change your thoughts and perceptions to gain confidence and power. You should always believe that you are in control and if someone else is trying to control you, then you should DO SOMETHING to stop them and regain power. You won’t be able to change an entire situation at a time but you can take small steps towards accomplishing it.

Learned helplessness can be reversed by being optimistic. Thinking in a more positive way helps to open your mind to the possibility that things will get better. What once seemed impossible could become easy to do with just a little effort. In any situation just tell yourself “I know how to handle this and I am going to do something about it”. Seligman said that “the drive to resist compulsion is more important than sex, food or water. The drive for competence or to resist compulsion is a drive to avoid helplessness”.

Therefore, it is just a matter of getting your ABC’s right. When you encounter ADVERSITY, you should believe that it is temporary and you have the power to change it. This BELIEF will lead to desirable outcomes (i.e. positive CONSEQUENCES) that give you the energy to act upon the situation.

Controlling your mind is like magic, if you know the trick you could achieve anything in life.

-Abinisha Viswalingam

“I am sorry” – The art of apologizing

“I am sorry”. For some of us these three words are the hardest words to come out with. When you have wronged someone, hurt their feelings, it becomes hard to ask for forgiveness. It is important to identify when you have to apologize to someone and how to do it. According to the study, published Tuesday (April 12) in the journal Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, it was found that the more elements the apology contained, the more effective it was rated. They found that six things increase the effectiveness of an apology: an expression of regret, an explanation of what went wrong, an acknowledgement of responsibility, a declaration of repentance, an offer of repair and a forgiveness. Here are some tips that can help you with the process of apologizing including the relevant elements.

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  • Take a moment and think for yourself. See how you feel about it. Do you feel you wronged the other person? Is an apology necessary? Would saying sorry make you feel different? Are you ready to apologize?
  • Give the other person some time. Sometimes trying to fix thing in the heat of the moment may do more harm than good.
  • If you are finding it hard to express how you feel verbally, then write. Put it in words on paper. When you do this it gives you time to reflect and process what you are putting across.
  • When you are wording your apology, it is essential to let the person at the receiving end know that you clearly understand what went wrong. To begin with you can address the issue and take responsibility for your actions.
  • Explain how you felt and why your reactions came out the way it did. This helps the other person to view it differently and understand the situation better. Also describing what you could have done differently would help future incidents.
  • Be genuine when you speak. Show you feel bad for how things have turned out. Convince the other person that you genuinely feel terrible and that you want to amend things. You can also ask if there is anything you can do from your side to make things better. As Gilbert K. Chesterton said “A stiff apology is a second insult… The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt.”
  • After the apology you and the person receiving the apology should feel relieved and good about yourselves. Something that was broken is now in the process of healing.

“In this life, when you deny someone an apology, you will remember it at a time you beg forgiveness.”– Toba Beta

-Fathimath Maisha

 

 

 

 

Picture Perfect?

Katie Joy Crawford has struggled with depression and anxiety for over a decade. A talented lifestyle photographer by profession, Ms. Crawford has showcased her struggle with mental illnesses in a series of photographs as part of her senior thesis exhibition at the Louisiana State University (LSU). The project named, ‘My Anxious Heart’ portrays how emotionally and physically traumatizing it is to live with a mental illness.

The twelve photos, each accompanied by a caption shows how constant a mental disorder can be in the life of a mentally ill person. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Crawford said that, “It’s not always terrifying, it’s not always strong and it’s not always intense, but it’s always close by.”

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  1. Drenched

A glass of water isn’t heavy. It’s almost mindless when you have to pick one up. But what if you couldn’t empty it or set it down? What if you had to support its weight for days … months … years? The weight doesn’t change, but the burden does. At a certain point, you can’t remember how light it used to seem. Sometimes it takes everything in you to pretend it isn’t there. And sometimes, you just have to let it fall.

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  1. Exhausted

I was scared of sleeping. I felt the most raw panic in complete darkness. Actually, complete darkness wasn’t scary. It was that little bit of light that would cast a shadow — a terrifying shadow.

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  1. Overwhelmed

My head is filling with helium. Focus is fading. Such a small decision to make. Such an easy question to answer. My mind isn’t letting me. It’s like a thousand circuits are all crossing at once.

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  1. Suffocated

They keep telling me to breathe. I can feel my chest moving up and down. Up and down. Up and down. But why does it feel like I’m suffocating? I hold my hand under my nose, making sure there is air. I still can’t breathe.

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  1. Numbed

Numb feeling. How oxymoronic. How fitting. Can you actually feel numb? Or is it the inability to feel? Am i so used to being numb that I’ve equated it to an actual feeling?

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  1. Fogged

A captive of my own mind. The instigator of my own thoughts. The more i think, the worse it gets. The less i think, the worse it gets. Breathe. Just breathe. Drift. It’ll ease soon.

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  1. Consumed

It’s strange — in the pit of your stomach. It’s like when you’re swimming and you want to put your feet down but the water is deeper than you thought. You can’t touch the bottom and your heart skips a beat.

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  1. Cracked

Cuts so deep it’s like they’re never going to heal. Pain so real, it’s almost unbearable. I’ve become this … this cut, this wound. All i know is this same pain; sharp breath, empty eyes, shaky hands. If it’s so painful, why let it continue? Unless … maybe it’s all that you know.

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  1. Existed

I’m afraid to live and I’m afraid to die. What a way to exist.

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  1. Overprotected

No matter how much i resist, it’ll always be right here desperate to hold me, cover me, break down with me. Each day i fight it, “you’re not good for me and you never will be”. But there it is waiting for me when I wake up and eager to hold me as i sleep. It takes my breath away. It leaves me speechless.

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  1. Trapped

You were created for me and by me. You were created for my seclusion. You were created by venomous defense. You are made of fear and lies. Fear of unrequited promises and losing trust so seldom given. You’ve been forming my entire life. Stronger and stronger.

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  1. Panicked

Depression is when you can’t feel at all. Anxiety is when you feel too much. Having both is a constant war within your own mind. Having both means never winning.

Katie Crawford’s photographs are a subjective guide for those who are not aware of the struggles faced by an individual suffering from a major mental illness. It is an arena for those suffering from the same or similar illnesses to connect and express their personal struggle and begin their own tedious process of healing. Katie Crawford said, ‘Trying to explain a mental illness to someone who’s never experienced it is like trying to explain color to a blind person’

One objective Katie wanted to achieve through her project was to reach the masses; she wanted to give a voice and a hand to hold to all the people out there who suffer from a mental illness. Mental illnesses can be isolating on their own, people don’t have to feel like they are alone just because they have a mental illness.

-Maleeha Saeed