It is part of life to have times when we feel afraid. The uncertainties in life can leave us feeling out of control, at the mercy of forces that we can’t understand or predict. On the other hand, the certainties of life – the things we know we are going to have to face and wish we didn’t have to, like medication regimens – can also be scary.
Facing a chronic condition presents all kinds of certainties and uncertainties. Each day can be different than the day before, in terms of how you feel, what you have to pay attention to, what you have to change in your routine, and that can mean new uncertainties, new opportunities, and new questions.
The uncertainties and the certainties of a medical diagnosis all result in changes to our daily routine. It’s human nature to view having to make a change as losing something – activities, routines, what others can expect from us and what we can expect from them – and that makes having to make changes especially scary. Uncertainty about the future, as well as wanting to avoid things that are certain but you wish they weren’t, like medication regimens, can leave you feeling pretty scared. It’s normal to ask yourself: What’s next? What else am I going to have to deal with?
Here are some ideas to think about to help you to deal with your own fear factor.
Define the fear. What is the worst case scenario? Fear can be kind of a vague feeling that follows you around like a dark cloud. I am not suggesting that you should think of ways to scare yourself. However, if you don’t define what it is you are actually afraid of, then chances are the cloud will continue to hover around you. Give your fear a definition by asking yourself, just exactly what is it that I am afraid of? When you know what it is, then you are in a better chance to do something about it, beginning with getting the right information.
Ask yourself: How real is my fear? The way the human brain works is that without real information, our minds fill in the gaps. But unfortunately, the gaps may be filled with scary thoughts and misinformation that is generated by your fear. In this way, you can end up working against yourself as your fear increases. Once you have defined what it is that you are really afraid of, ask yourself how realistic your fear is. Is this the only possible outcome? Are there other possibilities as well? Am I looking at this as an either-or and not considering the options?
And if you aren’t sure, get some answers. To understand how real your fears are, get some real information. Talk to your healthcare team, let them know your fears. Ask for some answers. In other words, get the facts. You may have to do some digging, maybe talk to more than one expert. At least make sure that you have as clear a view as possible of what you’re up against. When you have real information, then you are in a better position to determine what your options are, and take action.
While you’re at it, drown the fear in facts. Move at your own pace, don’t overload yourself. But decide to become an expert on your own situation. Get educated. Keep records of your treatment, symptoms, experiences, and maintain a list of questions to ask your healthcare team. And know your options in terms of what you can do take the best possible care of yourself, now and on the road ahead.
Ask yourself: How have I faced down challenges in the past? Do your own assessment of the coping strategies that have worked for you in the past. What are your strengths? Think about what you did to get through a time of fear and uncertainty, what you did to stay calm, what you told yourself to counteract the fear, the actions that you took, and who helped you get through it. Most likely, you have a lot of your own resources that you can draw upon.
Gather your support team together. Who do you have in your corner? One of the best ways to deal with fear is by having a safe place to talk about it. Is there someone you can sit with and talk about your fears, who can be a good listening ear, who can listen without judging you or telling you what to do? Make sure you have supportive people in your life who can partner with you on this journey.
Focus on the present, not the future. Take small steps. Try to move your focus away from the “what if?” and toward the “what now?” Do you what you need to do get through each day, focusing on your self-care, getting support, working closely with your healthcare team, basically handling the small stuff, one step at a time. The day to day is what you do have some control over. The “what if?” will become clearer over time.
Don’t give in to the positive thinking police. It’s okay to be scared… angry, frustrated… It’s normal to have a lot of different feelings when you are coping with a medical diagnosis. Don’t let anyone tell you that you should “think positive” and stop feeling how you feel. That’s just denial. Feelings are feelings, so don’t keep them inside. You will most likely find that, once you have let some of the feelings out, your mind is clearer to focus on that next step, as well as to listen and process information.
Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can. You can’t control everything. I know I told you that earlier on. But it bears repeating on those days when you fear ganging up on you again. Give yourself a pep talk. You are in a challenging situation, you don’t have the answers you need, at least not yet, and you don’t have a crystal ball. So go easy on yourself. You are doing everything you can right now in a situation that is out of your control, and that’s the most you can ask of yourself.
Ask for help in getting to your new normal. Change is scary. It’s not fair. And a chronic condition inevitably means change, sometimes lots of changes, anywhere from slight modifications to turning your daily life upside down. Talk with other patients and get ideas about the best way to cope, learn what you can from their experiences, consider advice that makes sense for you, let them know what you’re going through. Being on the journey with people who really know how hard the road is can make a lot of difference.
Reach out for a spiritual connection. A medical diagnosis lead to a spiritual awakening. What is your personal definition of spirituality? This may be a time to reconnect with religious or spiritual practices from your past, or to develop new ones. Having a sense of the meaning of it all, and a connection to something great than your day to day experiences, can be a great antidote for fear.
Build some enjoyment into your life. What makes you happy? How do you relax? Don’t forget to enjoy what relaxes you and makes you happy. Being with family and friends. Getting outside. Listening to music. Don’t let the fear deprive you of finding some joy in your life.
Have a strategy in place. As much as possible, be clear with yourself on how you want to live your life. Your strategy might take into account day-to-day self-care, communicating with your healthcare team, finances, emotional and practical support, up-to-date information, spirituality, and any other aspects of your life that you want to build into your plan. Having a strategy in place for your life helps to balance the uncertainty of the future with a measure of certainty for today. Again, one step at a time… a good strategy evolves over time, based on trial and error, experience, and taking that step back to make adjustments as needed.