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Empowerment Tools for Nurturing Your Health During Stress

The pandemic has distorted our livelihood and forced many of us into teleworking whether we were willing or unwilling. We’re plastered to our computers not just in the home office, but at our kitchen tables, or on the bed. We find ourselves having to make adjustments on a regular basis. Responsibilities may have been added to your already hefty plate. Your new work environment may not be favorable. Maybe you simply can’t concentrate. We just can’t seem to escape the pings and alerts from work colleagues. Working from home is new to many of us. However, the concept of work-life balance is not. Yet, instead of home being a sanctuary, it has become a boundless environment for work and stress. Through this journey, we can relearn what work-life balance is, and how intervening factors like stress meddle with our body and mind. We can learn the value mindfulness has in creating boundaries that benefit our health and productivity, and be empowered with tools to build and sustain our immunity.

In the moments we’re experiencing stress we don’t stop to think about the effects it can have on our mind, body, and soul. Being overworked, getting familiar with remote working conditions, or trying to make child-care arrangements can be awfully difficult during a pandemic (Harnois & Gabriel, 2002). Stressors such as these can drive workers into depression, cause sleep disorders, body aches and headaches, and lead to other short- and long- term effects. Job-related stress can affect our immune system by lowering our resistance to infections. Brace yourself, we’re about to hop on the science train, but only for a few stops so you’ll be fine.

Who turned off the lights?

Stress flips the switch on the central nervous system causing it to go into defensive mode (Han, Kim, & Shim, 2012). The body reacts in efforts to regain homeostasis or regain balance. As previously mentioned, stress has the ability to cause depression, sleep disorders, body aches, and a lower immune system. Did you know that stress, sleep, and immunity are related (Han, Kim, & Shim, 2012)? Small immune signaling proteins called cytokines aid in regulating sleep. When these proteins fail to perform properly due to stress, this interrupts phases of sleep. When experiencing this stress, an irregularity in the secretion of the hormone Cortisol occurs.

Depression is a common and complex disorder with the ability to affect your daily life including work and productivity (National Institutes of Health, 2016). The hippocampus, amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex are three parts of the brain that seem to have major roles in depression (Cirino, 2017). When we experience depression, Cortisol secretion increases causing chemical imbalances which can lead to the reduction of brain cells (neurons). In a Korean study published in Stress and Health, individuals who experience work-related stress are at a higher risk of experiencing major depressive issues (Lee, Joo, & Choi, 2013). Symptoms associated with work-related stress include a reduction in the ability to concentrate, fatigue, insomnia, and feeling counterproductive.

An increase in proinflammatory cytokine levels can cause inflammation within the body (Leonard, 2010). This can lead to major depression followed by type 2 diabetes and other inflammatory diseases. Cytokines are involved with adaptive immunity and have been linked to COVID-19 infections (Costela-Ruiz, Illescas-Montes, Puerta-Puerta, et al, 2020). Weakened immune responses have been linked to patients with comorbidities. While the available information regarding COVID-19 is ever changing, what we do know is severe pre-existing conditions, including pregnancy, are linked to weakened immune responses placing these individuals at a higher risk of contracting the virus.

Road to Redemption.

Now that we have a better understanding of stress, learn to set your boundaries to alleviate it. Establish boundaries in all aspects of your life, especially with work. This ensures that your needs and your health are placed at the forefront. Think of them as safeguards for yourself. As difficult as it may be to establish them, understand that they are without question essential for your efficacy in and out of work. Working without boundaries is when stress raids the mind, body, and soul creating an imbalance. Here are a few practices to reclaim your balance: be mindful, create a workable workspace, listen to your body, reevaluate your time, say no.

Being mindful is having that ability to find calm in times of chaos. Be conscious and aware of the moment, relax, and BREATHE. Only you are in control of you. This is a type of meditation that can be implemented in your daily life at any moment. Let’s take a few moments to practice. Stop what you’re doing, turn off the TV, put your laptop to the side, get comfortable, and gently close your eyes. Take a deep breath in, then slowly exhale. If you hear noises, leave them be, continue to breathe. Do this for about 5 minutes. This practice is to help you find your calm, clear your mind, and become hyperaware. This method of nurturing your mind and body has the ability to mitigate stress, anxiety, improve sleep, and improve attention (Mayo Clinic, 2018). There are many practices for mindfulness which can be found on the Complete Guide to Mindfulness.

We are no longer in our offices or confined to our cubicles so we must create workable workspaces, and implement our boundaries. Yes, your new comforter was just shipped from Amazon, but allow the bed to be a place for rest not work. Create a space to enhance productivity yet allow comfort. Here are tips to transform a section of your home into a conducive workspace:

1. Invest in a quality chair and desk/or small table

  • Maintain good posture. If you feel yourself slouching, readjust or move around We want to avoid body aches, so listen to your body. Be aware of its needs.

2. No desk?

  • Use the kitchen table or counter, a coffee table (make sure you have some sort of back support).
  • If you must use your bed because your room is the only place of silence, ensure your bed is made. Sit on top of your new comforter with your back against the headboard

3. Good lighting is a must.

 

4. Keep your workspace organized using bins and folders

  • Disorganization is distracting, limits movement, affects motivation, reduces your performance, and shows lack of control (Roster & Ferrari, 2019).

5. Do not let work leave your workspace. The rest of your home should be designated a non-working area.

Listening to your body is an aspect of creating boundaries. Do not let work interfere with your health. Know when to get up to stretch, grab water, have a snack, or take lunch. If you must, inform your team of the time you will take lunch daily. Having good nutrition is the first thing that will ensure we’re energized and healthy. Instead of ordering something to go for lunch, try meal prepping. Use Sunday as the day to prepare and organize your meals for the week, including your snacks.

Restock on the elderberry! Since we’re all being hyperconscious of where we venture in the world, incorporate things to boost your immune system such as Emergen-C and elderberry. Elderberry is a substance extracted from the elder tree which many use as a dietary supplement to help boost their immune system. It can be consumed in the form of syrup or even gummies. Disclaimer, before the use of any dietary supplement it is best practice to consult your healthcare provider.

Reevaluate your time. You may find that during this time you have accumulated more than 40 hours a week. It’s fine to work additional hours sometimes, but this takes away time from caring for yourself. It interferes with your work-life balance. Although we’re home, this shouldn’t equate to extra time to tap on computer keys. Reevaluating your time takes a level of mindfulness to understand the importance of taking care of you: your mind, your body, your soul.

Saying no can be difficult, especially to a loved one or your boss. However, you should listen to your mind, be aware of what you are capable of, and respect your time. Knowing when to say no in some respects may be less difficult than others. Saying no is powerful. It is the ultimate boundary we can create for ourselves and it is okay.

Our fight with this global pandemic has yet to near the end. If we are equipped with the tools to tackle our stress and adjust as needed, we may be equipped to continue our lives teleworking. We have learned to understand the deteriorating effects stress has on our health. It can disrupt sleep patterns, make us susceptible to depression, and weaken our immune systems. Each one of these conditions are tightly tied together by stress which we must keep unbound. However, the tools to reclaim our balance will aid us in this situation. Being mindful, creating the awareness we need to breathe and focus for productivity in work and life, will assist us in creating needed boundaries. Whether these boundaries are centered around a conducive workspace, listening to our bodies, reevaluating our time, or simply saying no, it is a necessity to properly control and lessen the amount of work-related stress we experience in these crucial times.


References

Cirino, E. (2017). The effects of depression on the brain. https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/effects-brain#1

Costela-Ruiz, V. J., Illescas-Montes, R., Puerta-Puerta, J. M., Ruiz, C., & Melguizo-Rodríguez, L. (2020). SARS-CoV-2 infection: The role of cytokines in COVID-19 disease. Cytokine & growth factor reviews, S1359-6101(20)30109-X. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.06.001

Han, K. S., Kim, L., & Shim, I. (2012). Stress and sleep disorder. Experimental neurobiology, 21(4), 141–150. https://doi.org/10.5607/en.2012.21.4.141

Harnois, G. & Gabriel, P. (2002). Mental health and work: impact, issues, and good practices. https://www.who.int/mental_health/media/en/712.pdf

Lee, J., Joo, E., & Choi, K. (2013). Perceived stress and self-esteem mediate the effects of work-related stress on depression. Stress and Health, 29(1), 75–81. https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.2428

Leonard B. E. (2010). The concept of depression as a dysfunction of the immune system. Current immunology reviews, 6(3), 205–212. https://doi.org/10.2174/157339510791823835

Mayo Clinic (2018). Mindfulness exercises. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/mindfulness-exercises/art-20046356

National Institute of Health (2016). Depression basics. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml

Roster, C., & Ferrari, J. (2019). Does Work Stress Lead to Office Clutter, and How? Mediating Influences of Emotional Exhaustion and Indecision. Environment and Behavior, 1391651882304–. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916518823041

5 Yoga Poses That Reduce Daily Stress

We all deal with stress in our own way. 

Personally, I’ve been set on a downward spiral from something as simple as a negative thought. And although I still have hard days, I can say yoga has made these stressful times far easier to manage and few and far between. 

While yoga isn’t a cure-all, it can make a tremendous impact on how you deal with stress, where you store it in your body, and how happy you are throughout the day. If you haven’t given it a serious try, I strongly suggest committing to this simple, 5 pose routine and doing it every day for the next week. It only takes about 10-15 minutes and requires no prior yoga knowledge. 

Let’s have a look…

Why does yoga help with stress? 

Most of us store stress in our neck, upper back and shoulders. Many of us also sit at desks for the majority of our days. This leads to bad posture which further exacerbates the tension in our back, neck, and shoulders. 

Yoga helps you release tension and stress in those areas, strengthen your muscles and take a moment to focus on your breath. This is doubly important if you’re already experiencing burnout and overwhelm. 

When you perform a pose like forward bend or plank, you take deep breaths that trigger a relaxation response in your body. You also strengthen your core which leads to improved posture and physiology. 

If you had to picture a depressed or stressed person, you’d probably imagine them looking down, bad posture, and breathing shallow, etc. Something as simple as better posture actually improves your body’s response to stress

These are just a few ways yoga helps to reduce stress but, I encourage you to try it yourself and report back to us.

Do you need any special equipment?

The short answer is no. If you have a carpet or a soft surface, then you really don’t need anything. 

However, there are things that can assist in your practice. 

For example, a yoga mat may help you by improving cushioning on your joints as well as giving you a stable surface to practice on. Yoga blocks and straps can help you build form and give you something to hold onto. An anti-gravity yoga swing can help you maintain balance and stability in a number of poses. And a yoga wheel can help you with more advanced positions. 

However, none of these items are required, especially when you’re starting out. We encourage you to just focus on committing to this routine, every day, for the next week and see how you feel. 

5 yoga poses to perform each day

1. Forward bend

The forward bend is one of those classic, super simple poses that make a big difference in how you feel. This is an especially great pose if you work at a desk for most of the day. When you sit at a desk, your hamstrings are always contracted, your back rounds and your posture can start slipping. 

As a result, you breathe more shallow, your shoulders get tight, and the downward spiral begins. 

The forward bend relieves the pressure that’s been exerted on your spine, lengthens your hamstrings, and gives you a minute to just breathe. 

To perform the pose, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Then hinge at the hips and bend forward placing your hands on the ground if you can. Draw in your belly button toward your spine to activate the stretch and feel the tension releasing down your back. 

You may notice your back cracks as the pressure releases. Hold the pose for as long as you like making sure that, if you still feel the tension in any specific areas (like your hamstrings), hold it longer until that tension begins to relax. 

It’s also okay to have your knees slightly bent if needed but work on straightening them out over time. 

2. Cat cow

This is actually two poses that work hand in hand. They’re an ideal combination for releasing tension along your entire back as well as building strength and flexibility in your spine. 

To perform the first part (cat pose), get on all fours on your yoga mat or carpet. Make sure your hands are shoulder-width apart and your legs are hip-width apart. 

From there, take a breath and then exhale as you round your back and lower your head, pointing your crown toward the ground. 

Now, as you inhale you’re going to move into the cow pose. From the cat pose, take a deep breath and move in the exact opposite way. You’re going to raise your head and point your gaze toward the ceiling as you round your belly toward the floor. 

As you’ll notice, you’re both breathing deeply throughout the pose as well as improving lower and mid-back mobility. 

You may feel a little tension in your upper back while in the cat pose. If so, focus on pushing your shoulder blades out and holding that stretch until it relaxes a bit. This can be 5 seconds or 5 minutes. 

3. Corpse pose 

At first glance, corpse pose seems intuitive. You simply lay on the floor and relax – just like you do when you’re taking a nap or going to sleep. And while it is somewhat natural, there are important distinctions. 

When performing corpse pose, it’s imperative to focus on breath and thought patterns. This is the key to relieving stress and putting in the intentional “me time” our busy lives crave. 

To perform the corpse pose, get a yoga mat or go to an area with soft carpet. 

Lay on your back with your feet shoulder-width apart and hands straight down at your sides. Lie there for a moment just letting your self breathe naturally and relax into the position. 

After a few breaths, become aware of the feeling of the ground beneath you, become aware of the sensations happening in your body, and notice the sounds and smells around you. Release all judgment and just observe. 

Now work your way from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head, releasing the tension in each area. Pay special attention to releasing tension in your back, shoulders, neck, and face muscles. Breathe deep, take your time, and relax in this pose for as long as you like. 

4. Plank pose 

Now that you’re nice and relaxed from the corpse pose, we’re going to perform a more active movement. The plank pose is incredible for building core strength and stability because it hits all of your abdominal muscles and your glutes. In fact, it works the abdominal muscles that crunches are unable to strengthen. 

Our posture affects how we feel. When you’re slumped over with a rounded back, it sends chemical messages throughout your body. 

These messages can trigger stress, lower self-esteem, and even cause issuue with sleep. By performing a few planks every day, you can fight these problems and more. The plank also gets your blood flowing which promotes stress-busting happy hormones. 

To perform the plank, get into a pushup pose on the ground. Now drop to your elbows while keeping the rest of your body elevated from the mat. Draw in your belly button to tighten your abdominal muscles and hold the pose for 30-60 seconds. Repeat this 3 times in a row giving yourself about 1 minute in between to rest. 

5. Childs pose 

This is the perfect pose to end your anti-stress yoga routine. It’s very relaxing, excellent for spinal flexibility and one where you can really focus on your breath.

To perform the child’s pose, simply kneel on your yoga mat or carpet with your legs together and sitting back on your heels. Now bend forward pulling your chest close to your thighs. Reach your hands above your head like you’re trying to grab the far wall. Feel the stretch along your spine and throughout your shoulders. 

You can hold this pose for as long as you like. It’s an excellent way to spend some time breathing, relaxing, and preparing your mind for a great day. 

Closing

When it comes to stress, yoga is the perfect way to beat the feeling and tension caused by it. By adopting yoga as part of your daily routine (it only takes a few minutes after all), you can build flexibility, improve posture, trigger happy hormones, and just feel happier more capable during the day. Give it a try today and let us know how you feel after. 

Can Diet and Exercise Reduce MPN Symptoms?

Can Diet and Exercise Reduce MPN Symptoms? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What can YOU do to make a positive impact on your overall MPN care? Researchers Dr. Jennifer Huberty and Ryan Eckert review the latest research on how movement and diet can benefit people living with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs).

Dr. Jennifer Huberty is an Associate Professor at Arizona State University. She focuses her research on the use of complementary approaches to manage symptoms and improve quality of life for patients living with myeloproliferative neoplasms. More about Dr. Huberty here: chs.asu.edu/jennifer-huberty.

Ryan Eckert currently works at Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center. Ryan is the Research Coordinator for the MPN QoL Study Group and assists in research related to complementary health approaches in myeloproliferative neoplasms and other hematological disorders. More about Ryan here: mpnqol.com/research-team.

See More From the The Path to MPN Empowerment

Related Programs:

Am I Meditating Correctly? Getting the Most Out of Mindfulness

Expert Tips for Managing MPN-Related Anxiety

Improving Life with MPNs: The Latest Research and How to Get Involved


Transcript:

Ryan:

So, as far as the benefits of exercise for MPN patients, there’s many, and so, I guess starting with cancers as a whole, there’s a lot more research that’s been done in recent decades that looks at the effects of various forms of exercise and physical activity on other cancers. They just tend – researchers tend to do a lot more of that work in breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, et cetera.

And so, the research in exercise for MPN patients is actually really new, and nobody outside of Dr. Huberty in conjunction with Dr. Mesa and a few other researchers have done any research related to exercise specifically in MPN patients. Our yoga studies that we’ve done have been the first venture down that route for MPN patients. But, what we do know in general is that exercise has obviously systemic effects across the whole body.

So, you’re gonna get health benefits just in general from exercise, but as far as for MPN patients specifically, some of the things that we’ve seen with our yoga studies, which is obviously a form of physical activity, is that we’ve seen sleep improve in MPN patients, so we’ve seen a reduction in sleep disturbances or disruptions in their sleep, a quicker time to fall asleep, and then, less waking up throughout the night – so, just better sleep in general.

We’ve seen some reductions in fatigue that have been reported by MPN patients who have gone through our yoga studies, and then, we’ve also seen a few other reductions in some other symptoms, such as anxiety and reduced depressive symptoms, a little bit of reduced pain is another one we’ve seen. So, just in general, we’ve seen some of those effects on MPN patients through some of our yoga studies.

Dr. Huberty:

So, in terms of adding to what Ryan just said, I would just say that exercise – maybe yoga or walking – is good for your body. It’s good for your health. It’s a recommendation that we get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week. The more that MPN patients can be achieving that goal towards 150 minutes – yoga counting at that – the better off they’re gonna be, and it doesn’t have to be going for a run.

It can simply be going for a walk around the block. It can be standing at your desk when you’re working instead of sitting all the time. That’s not necessarily activity per se, but it is moving your body and less sedentary. So, I think just focusing on the more that patients can move their body every day, the better off they’re gonna be.

Dr. Huberty:                

So, yeah, the role of diet in MPN patients – so, this is the beauty about the quality of life study group, because we have all these wonderful investigators that are part of the team, and we do have Dr. Robyn Scherber, who’s at Mays with Dr. Ruben Mesa. She’s doing some work with keto diet right now, so it’s very new, so I don’t know if you’re familiar with the keto diet, but it’s very high-fat and very low-carbohydrate, extremely low levels of carbohydrates. I wouldn’t tell any patient to go start doing those things unless they’ve talked to their physician for sure, but we do know that based on how you eat does certain things to your body.

So, MPNs have high inflammatory markers, and so, we wanna decrease inflammation; we probably wanna eat foods that are going to be anti-inflammatory. So, berries, let’s say, is a good example of fruits that are anti-inflammatory, almonds are anti-inflammatory, and I’m not a dietitian by any means, it’s just that things that I know to be true for my own diet because everybody should be thinking about having an anti-inflammatory diet.

Processed foods are not healthy. They are higher-inflammatory. Breakfast foods, eating out, and the foods that you get when you eat out a lot are going to be more inflammatory than not. So, just those small things – lots of vegetables. Vegetables are very good. Lots of greens. But, there is research going on – again, just like exercise and yoga, it’s in its infancy because MPN has been an under-studied population for years, and we’re trying to power through and make that difference.

Am I Meditating Correctly? Getting the Most Out of Mindfulness

Am I Meditating Correctly? Getting the Most Out of Mindfulness from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Dr. Jennifer Huberty explains how mindfulness, such as meditation and yoga, can have an impact on your overall health and well-being.

Dr. Jennifer Huberty is an Associate Professor at Arizona State University. She focuses her research on the use of complementary approaches to manage symptoms and improve quality of life for patients living with myeloproliferative neoplasms. More about Dr. Huberty here: chs.asu.edu/jennifer-huberty.

See More From the The Path to MPN Empowerment

Related Programs:

Can Diet and Exercise Reduce MPN Symptoms?

Expert Tips for Managing MPN-Related Anxiety

Improving Life with MPNs: The Latest Research and How to Get Involved


Transcript:

Dr. Huberty:    

If someone is wondering if they’re meditating correctly or not, or if two minutes of meditation is enough, if you turn to the science and the literature in terms of how much meditation you need, nobody knows. For every study that says five minutes, there’s a study that says 20 minutes, there’s a study that says an hour. I think it’s really important that the individual gets in touch with “what works for me.”

I think the most important thing is that if you’re sitting for meditation and you choose to sit for meditation, just simply listening to your breath – when you realize you’re off, thinking about what I’m making for dinner tonight or what’s gonna happen over the Thanksgiving holidays with my family, then you just say, “Oh, thinking,” and then you come back to, “Okay, where’s my breath? I’m breathing in, I’m breathing out. I’m breathing in, I’m breathing out.” So, it’s just being able to do that and not say, “Oh my God, I’m not doing this right, this isn’t working for me.” There is none of that. It’s supposed to be nonjudgment in the present moment.

“Oh, the present moment – I’m thinking. Now, in the present moment, I’m gonna go back to my breath.” So, it’s really understanding that, and I think it’s also important for people to understand that you don’t have to be seated in meditation. You can be standing in meditation, you can be laying in meditation, you can be kneeling in meditation. I think with MPN patients, not all sitting positions recommended in meditation might be comfortable. If you need a pillow under your tail, put a pillow under your tail. There’s no rulebook to say how you need to sit in meditation. I think that’s important.

And, there’s also other ways to be mindful. Coloring can be mindful. Walking and exploring the leaves and the landscape can be mindful. So, I think in our studies, yes, we’re encouraging meditation, using an app, but that’s to give people structure, education, and a background about what is meditation, but then, there is room for expansion to other things.

It’s pretty much the same thing with yoga. You’re quieting your mind; you’re focusing on your breath. There’s no rulebook that says you have to move a certain pace. You’re supposed to move with your breath, so if your breath is slow, your pace is slow. The other thing is that there is no right way to do a pose.

So, again, patients wanna know, “Am I doing this pose right?” Well, I can tell you that if you feel good in the pose, nothing is hurting you, your shoulder doesn’t feel like it’s doing something it shouldn’t, your head doesn’t feel like it’s in the wrong direction, and you’re watching the video and looking at what the instructor’s doing, you’re probably doing the pose just fine.

I think we get stuck on “Is this correct or not?” What we wanna be careful of is safety. You don’t wanna be standing on your head and wondering if you’re doing it correctly. You wanna have a basis, and that’s what we do in our programming, is it’s very basic, very foundational poses that you can learn the practice of meditating in the poses.

Stress Management

This video was originally published on YouTube by The American Cancer Society on November 5, 2018 here.


Feeling overwhelmed and juggling multiple responsibilities on top of providing care to your loved one with cancer can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. You might feel as if the weight of world is on your shoulders. Four tips for coping are provided to help lower your stress level and better cope when times get tough. Learn more at: www.cancer.org/caregivers

Returning To Work During or After Cancer Treatment: Part 2

This is the second part of a three-part series which deals with common concerns on returning to work after a cancer diagnosis.

In Part 1 of this series, I shared some tips with you on how to prepare for your re-entry into the workplace. In this article we will look at practical ways to handle issues such as fatigue and concentration, managing your workload, and dealing with stress.

Let’s start with some tips on coping with fatigue as it’s probably the biggest challenge you will face, regardless of whether you are working during treatment or returning to work after treatment has ended.

Coping With Cancer-Related Fatigue

Cancer-related fatigue (CRF) is increasingly recognized as one of the most common and distressing side effects of cancer and its treatments. It has been estimated that from one quarter to nearly all cancer patients experience CRF during and after treatment.  Although things generally improves after therapy is completed, some level of fatigue may persist for months, or even years, following treatment.

Commenting on the impact of CRF on her own work, Kate Bowles, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, says, “The main advice I give is that chemo related fatigue is real and lasting. And also that your priorities change, often in very empowering ways. I am very calm in my job, because I really know now that it’s just a job.”

A lot of cancer patients don’t report fatigue to their doctors because they think that nothing can be done for it. In fact, there are things that can be done to alleviate the debilitating effects of CRF.  If left untreated, fatigue may lead to depression and profoundly diminish your quality of life, so it’s important that you speak to your doctor if fatigue is an issue for you. Before you can address CRF specifically, your doctor needs to determine if there are any underlying medical issues which may be contributing to your fatigue.

Making some adjustments to your everyday routines can also help you cope with CRF.

Here are three ways to do this.

1. Make deposits in your ‘energy bank’

You may find it helpful to think of your energy reserves as your ‘energy bank’. Whenever you do an activity you make a withdrawal. And when you rest you make a deposit. It’s important to balance withdrawals with deposits. If you keep doing too much whenever you feel like you have energy, you’ll run out completely and not have any reserves left for the things that are important.

2. Plan your day

Planning is key when you have fatigue. Write a ‘To Do’ list each evening so you can prioritize the things you need to do at work the next day.

3. Do some regular light exercise

Try to get out in the fresh air for a walk at lunchtime.  Although exercising may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re tired, if you don’t exercise, you’re more likely to experience fatigue.

I also recommend you download a free app called Untire, which contains a program that will help you track and improve your energy levels. The app uses theories and techniques from scientifically proven cognitive behavior therapy, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, positive psychology and physical exercise interventions.

Time Management 

Managing your time at work is all about learning to work smarter, not harder.  It’s not about packing more tasks into your day, but about streamlining how you go about your work and prioritizing key tasks.

Here are seven tips to develop better time management skills.

1. Track your time and eliminate the non-essential

First things first. If you’re going to manage your time better, you need to figure out where you spend your time. Use a tool like RescueTime to track your activities for a week. This will help you determine how much you can realistically accomplish in a day, identify the time of day when you are most productive, and uncover daily timesucks, such as reading emails (unsubscribe from those e-mail lists you no longer need).  When we can clearly identify our daily time sinks and remove them, we become more focused and productive.

2. Do the most important thing first

Mark Twain once said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” The point that Twain was making is that you should take care of your biggest and most-challenging tasks first thing in the morning.

Each day, identify the one or two tasks that are the most important to complete, and get started right away on them. If a task is too big to complete in one day, divide it into smaller tasks to be spread out over several days.  When you have accomplished a task, mark it off your list with a pen. This provides a psychological boost as it gives you visual confirmation that you are getting somewhere.

3. Batch related tasks

Batching refers to the process of using blocks of time for specific repetitive tasks. Different tasks demand different types of thinking, so save yourself time and mental energy by focusing on one type of task before moving on to the next.

4. Focus on one task at a time

Finding it hard to concentrate is a common effect of having had cancer. To combat this, focus on one task at a time instead of multi-tasking.  Research tells us it can take up to 30 minutes to return your attention to whatever you were doing before an interruption. Put your phone away, close your email applications and any unnecessary browser windows on your computer. Concentrate fully on the one task you need to complete.

5. Take regular breaks

Allow yourself down-time between tasks.  Break for lunch and take additional short breaks throughout the day. Maintain your energy reserves with nutritious snack breaks. Pack nuts, fresh fruits and veggies, hummus, or low-fat cheese to take to work with you.

6. Set time limits for tasks

Give yourself a certain time by which you will complete a task. For instance, reading and answering email can consume your whole day if you let it. Instead, set a limit of one hour a day for this task and stick to it. The easiest way to do this is to assign a solid block of time to this task rather than answering email on demand.

7. Let go of perfectionism

Stop trying to be perfect. When you’re a perfectionist, nothing will ever be good enough. That means you’ll stick with a task long past the deadline. You’ll say yes to too many things and take on too much in an effort to prove to yourself, and others, that nothing has changed since your cancer diagnosis.

Sometimes you need to realize that good enough is sufficient and when you reach that point, then simply stop. This is not an excuse to do a poor job, but it is intended to give you permission to do a good job and then leave it there. Don’t waste precious energy and time polishing and perfecting something past that point.

Managing Stress

It’s normal to feel some stress on returning to work, so it makes sense to plan ahead for how to deal with stressful situations. Here are some tips to help you.

1. Identify your body’s stress response

How we experience stress is individual to each of us. Learning to tune into what happens in your body when you perceive a stressful situation is the first step in understanding your own individual stress response. Does your jaw clench? Is your breath shallow? Are your muscles tense? When you become more aware of your physical response to stress, it will help regulate the tension when it does occur.

2. Slow down and pay attention to your breathing

When stress hits, everything speeds up. Our thoughts race, our heart pounds and our breathing increases. This can make it difficult to think rationally. Consciously slow down your breathing. When we are stressed we tend to breathe more shallowly.  When you feel stressed, practice taking some slow deep abdominal breaths.  Deep abdominal breathing slows the heart down, lowers blood pressure and helps us feel calmer.

3. Come back to your senses

One of the best ways to stop getting lost in your thoughts is to come to your senses and ground yourself in the present moment. A simple exercise is to notice five things around you. Practice this periodically throughout the day, especially at those times you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.

  • Look around and notice five things that you can see;
  • Listen carefully and notice five things that you can hear;
  • Notice five things that you can feel in contact with your body (for example, your feet upon the floor, your back against the chair);
  • Finally, do all of the above simultaneously.

4. Take Some Exercise

Physical activity is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce stress and anxiety – providing a natural outlet for your body when you are exposed to too much adrenaline.

Research has shown that there are many benefits to exercise. Not only does it help reduce the symptoms of fatigue, exercise encourages your body to release endorphins – often called ‘feel good hormones’. When released, endorphins can lift your mood and sense of well-being.

Go for a walk, head to the gym or find a lunch-time yoga class. Throughout the day take short breaks to stretch or do simple exercises at your desk.

Wrapping Up

Handling your re-entry to the workplace after a cancer diagnosis is all about organizing your time better, prioritizing your workload, establishing boundaries and becoming more comfortable with saying no to unreasonable demands.

Above all, it’s about making your health your top priority. Get adequate sleep, eat healthily, take some exercise and incorporate stress-management techniques into your daily routines.

I know from personal experience it isn’t always quite as straightforward as I have laid things out here. There will be many ups and downs. Deborah Bowman, a Professor of Medical Ethics, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2017, urges self-kindness and patience. “Don’t be afraid to say if it becomes unexpectedly (or expectedly!) difficult,” she says,  “be kind to yourself and allow others to be kind to you too. Accept it may be up and down rather than a straightforward trajectory. Celebrate your good moments and forgive yourself the harder moments.”


Next month in Part 3 of this Returning To Work series, we will take a look at the opportunities and challenges of finding a new job after cancer.  Until then, if you have any tips to share with readers about how you coped on returning to work, please share them in the comments below.

Chronic Illness: Oh, the Stress of It All!

(Melissa is a patient, advocate, and runs her own website www.curegp.com)

Everyone must deal with stress from time to time, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Stress can actually be beneficial when it is short-term and low-level. It can boost your energy and memory, act as a motivator, and even enhance your physical strength. But those of us with chronic illness often battle prolonged stress, with few or no breaks, and this can be quite detrimental to our health. There is a growing body of evidence that indicates this type of stress can lead to serious health issues such as heart disease, migraines, stomach problems, high blood pressure, and depression. In order to avoid, or at least minimize these possible risks and effects, it is important to know how to recognize and manage potentially harmful stress.

Coping with stress can be particularly difficult for those of us living with chronic illness because of its long-term and serious nature. It comes with additional stressors that most other people do not face, and there is rarely a respite from these. Diagnosis is often accompanied by fear, confusion, and disbelief. Some of us experience apprehension because we feel we have not been given a proper initial explanation of our condition or enough information to manage it effectively. Conversely, there is commonly an overload of information to process regarding our numerous medications and the complex medical routines we must follow. We are often shocked by the overwhelmingly difficult lifestyle changes required of us. Upon initial diagnosis, many of us are confused and upset about the nature of our illness, its causes, its symptoms, our prospects for treatments or a cure, and the measures that will be required of us to accommodate the effects of our illness. We fear what the future holds.

There are other complications that concern us as well. It can be difficult to find a doctor who can (or will) treat us, and we must sometimes interact with several different physicians who manage our care. On occasion, we receive conflicting advice and recommendations from the medical professionals providing for our treatment. In times of medical crisis, we face decisions about whether it is appropriate to treat our illness at home, see our doctor, or perhaps visit the emergency room. Many of us struggle to find medications and treatments that work for us and must determine this through trial and error. Once we find helpful medications and treatments, we may face difficulty in gaining access to them and at times must battle with insurance companies who deny us coverage or physicians who hesitate to prescribe them. It can all be pretty overwhelming.

In addition to the hardship of dealing with the day-to-day management of the actual symptoms themselves, there are long-term concerns. Severe symptoms can eventually interfere with one’s social life and even jeopardize one’s career. Friends and family members may have unrealistic expectations about what a chronically ill person is capable of, and often, we ourselves have these same unrealistic expectations. We are regularly too sick to participate in social activities, and we feel much guilt over our withdrawal from social functions and gatherings we once found enjoyable. We may begin to feel increasingly cut off and isolated from the friends and family members we once knew. If serious enough, symptoms can result in missed days of work and eventual unemployment, which can lead to monetary woes. The loneliness, seclusion, and financial strain associated with these factors act as additional stressors and make it all the more difficult for those of us who are chronically ill to cope.

Indeed, life with chronic illness can be burdensome and stressful. Nonetheless, there are methods of averting or minimizing many of the factors that contribute to our stress. For starters, we can make an effort to prevent stress from occurring in the first place by educating ourselves. Searching the Internet, reading articles, asking questions of our doctors, and seeking out others with the same condition helps provide us with insight into our illness. It minimizes the fear of the unknown that accompanies our diagnosis and gives us an idea of what to expect in terms of symptoms, treatments, possible complications, and prognosis. It helps us recognize what is “normal” for our condition and what is cause for concern and aids us in preparing for what might be coming down the road.

We can also do our best to maintain a healthy lifestyle. (I am not suggesting we can attain perfect health; I am simply recommending doing whatever we can to be as healthy as possible given the limitations of our illnesses.) This might mean taking vitamins and supplements, exercising, making the most nutritious food/drink choices possible, getting adequate rest, and taking our medications as recommended.

In addition, we can work toward strong mental health. Rather than expecting “perfect” lives, we can focus on the good we have and be grateful for the small, joyful moments. Likewise, we can learn to manage the circumstances in our lives that can be governed and adapt to the ones beyond our command. (We may not be able to attend courses on a college campus, for example, but perhaps we can take online classes. Maybe we cannot make it to the movie theater, but we can view videos in the comfort of our own homes.) We can also forgive ourselves for our perceived shortcomings and pardon others for not acknowledging our limitations. We cannot control missing an event due to illness, but we can refuse to feel guilty and accept that we cannot “will” ourselves to be well. Our illnesses are real, and they come with genuine physical limitations.

Finally, we can learn to recognize the signs of harmful stress (i.e., mental confusion, anxiety, worry, depression, fatigue, altered sleep patterns) and seek help when we feel discouraged and defeated by joining support groups; talking to trusted friends, family members, and neighbors; or pursuing professional counseling. We can engage in pleasurable activities – such as reading, writing, listening to music, playing board games, etc. – that momentarily distract us from our debilitating symptoms. We can read encouraging books or practice relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation. We can ask loved ones for assistance or consider employing home helpers/aides to lend a hand with household chores or other tasks we have difficulty completing. Perhaps we can identify government and charitable programs (for prescription aid, low-income housing, reduced-cost medical care, and the like) that might ease our financial burdens.

We may not be able to entirely avoid the stress that results from our complicated and sometimes overwhelming circumstances, but we can learn to manage it. As chronic illness warriors, we face a constant, daunting battle against stress – but it is not one we must necessarily lose.

Spotlight on LUNGevity: Cancer and Stress

Spotlight

(Editor’s Note: LUNGevity is one of our esteemed partners. This leading organization has for mission to make “an immediate impact on increasing quality of life and survivorship of people with lung cancer by accelerating research into early detection and more effective treatments, as well as providing community, support, and education for all those affected by the disease.”)

 

Stress affects all of us in one way or another. By definition, stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.

A new year presents new challenges for people on top of everyday stressors. Whatever your life challenges are, there are ways to manage your stress so that it doesn’t become harmful to your health. This is especially important for those of us who have had cancer.

Some experts say that is the link between cancer and stress—if stress decreases the body’s ability to fight disease, it loses the ability to kill cancer cells.

Stress doesn’t only make us feel awful emotionally,” says Jay Winner, MD, author of “Take the Stress Out of Your Life” and director of the Stress Management Program for Sansum Clinic in Santa Barbara, Calif. “It can also exacerbate just about any health condition you can think of.”

Stress may worsen or increase risk of obesity, diabetes, headaches, depression and heart disease as well. People fighting cancer may feel stress about what their bodies are going through, what their families are going through, uncertainty about cancer treatment, financial and emotional concerns.

Here are 5 things people who have had or are living with cancer can do to reduce their stress.

1)     Get Informed

Becoming well educated about your health conditions, treatment options and symptom management may reduce stress. While too much information may feel overwhelming to some, knowing your disease, recognizing your symptoms and where to get help for your side effects may help you feel more secure and supported in your cancer treatment.

2)     Express Yourself

Talk about how you’re feeling. Join a support group. Talk to family members and friends. For some who aren’t great talkers—write about your feelings in a journal or express yourself in artistic ways. Expressing to others about how you’re feeling may reduce tension and stress

3)     Get Moving

Exercise can help reduce stress. Activities such as walking can also help to relieve pent-up energy. For those who have physical limitations, light movement of arms and body can also help with circulation and reduce stress.

4)     Be Kind to Yourself and Others

Take breaks when you can. Eat nutritious foods, get plenty of sleep, and be kind and gentle on yourself—you deserve it.  Helping others can also make you feel good about yourself. Survivors in our LifeLine Support Program have reported that helping patients who were newly diagnosed actually helped them to feel better about themselves and what they had to go through with cancer.

5)     Ask for Help

There are resources available that can help you with practical and emotional issues surrounding your cancer. Start with your doctor and patient navigator. Sometimes an oncology social worker is the one who has a list of resources available in your area. Ask for help from family and friends who can step in to help with practical needs. If you have a hard time asking for help, designate a caregiver or advocate who can find you the help you need.

Katie Brown                                                  LUNGevity logo

Content courtesy of LUNGevity