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Tools to Help Increase Resilience

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Published on March 23, 2020

Key Takeaways

  • Emotional resilience can help people deal with the stress, anxiety and challenging situations brought on by a cancer diagnosis.
  • Tools to develop resilience are perseverance, realistic optimism and learning - without judgment - from mistakes.

Certified yoga therapist Raquel Jex Forsgren continues her series on mindfulness techniques for developing emotional resilience, and highlights tenacity as a key factor in achieving well-being and overcoming obstacles.  

Whether someone is a diagnosed with cancer or they're taking care of someone who is, "how we approach what we're going through really can make or break the situation," says Raquel. 

Tune in as she leads viewers through a guided meditation with a focus on three main features of tenacity—perseverance, realistic optimism and learning from mistakes—to help cancer patients and their loved ones manage anxiety and cope with challenges. 

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Transcript | Tools to Help Increase Resilience

The third thing we've talked about is reasoning.  How do we look at our own biases, our own judgments?  We've really been inward actually for the past few months for sure.  We talked about health, the importance of sleep, nutrition, exercise, movement. 

And then today tenacity will be the fifth.  When we think about tenacity there are three main concepts that come to mind and that we look at and that I look at as a resilience coach when I work with people, and the first is perseverance.  Perseverance to me is about bouncing back.  It's being able to handle what life is throwing at us, and even if we feel like it knocks us down for a day or two, it's about being able to get back up, having that determination, that drive, that desire.  So that's one part of it.  It's learning from what's working well for us, like successes. 

So, for example, if you found a certain practice or meditation or reading technique really helps you manage your anxiety before you have to leave for the hospital to go get your infusion or before dealing with a certain situation with a family member, that's a success, and so it's celebrating that and learning from it to find out what work for you because what might work for you might be different for other people. 

And then it's also thinking about the attitude, and we've talked about this a little bit before.  Our attitudes and how we approach what we're going through really can make or break the situation, and I know that all of us have faced that, whether we're the ones with a diagnosis and walking and living that journey with cancer or whether we're taking care of someone who is, and the attitude makes such a huge difference and arguably could even mean more than how much you might know about your own disease or your loved one's disease, building on that, thinking about having realistic optimism. 

And notice I said realistic.  I've been known in my life and my career for being almost a Pollyanna, thinking that if I prepared and prepared and prepared that I could avoid having hardships or mistakes or things like that, and I learned the hard way that it definitely helps, but you can't keep from having difficulties and having obstacles come your way.  And I think that definitely speaks to what we go through in a cancer journey, because I'll give you an example. 

I work with several people who went into treatment incredibly healthy, strong, a lot of muscle, different things like that and had rock star attitudes, "The side effects are not going to get to me.  I know that they affect other people but not me." Or "I'm not going to let this get me down.  I won't cry, I won't be sad," so on and so forth, and I'm sure that many of you can‑‑you have your own story that you have around this.  And slowly for different people, and every body is so different, and every mind is so different it's not the same, but eventually someone feels something that they thought they wouldn't feel. 

That's where the realistic optimism comes in.  It's about being hopeful but acknowledging the difficulties that might arise and the obstacles that we'll need to overcome, and that's why we build this resilience.  So don't have too much optimism and don't be a pessimist either, and that example we know for people that have positive attitudes and really stand on top of their health and follow the treatment guidelines that their oncologists have given them over time optimizes outcomes.  So keep that there.  Keep that realistic optimism.  Keep that hope. 

And then lastly, the third component around building tenacity is managing our mistakes.  I'm sure some of you are sitting out there thinking, "I don't make any mistakes," or your loved one is saying, "You never make mistakes."  I know I make them daily, and what I can only hope is that each time I learn so much from them.  And it could be even as simple as not judging yourself when you make a mistake.  Or let's just say that your oncologist and your nutritionist told you not to eat something prior to a treatment because if you did, it would increase the potential for nausea or vomiting or diarrhea or so on and so on and so on, and you went ahead and you did it.  Well, you did it.

So go inward, think about that, and then the next time that comes around try a different strategy.  Learn from that, but definitely don't judge and analyze yourself, and focus on the learning aspect of that.  I think that we're in these situations we really have a tendency to be down on ourselves or blame ourselves.  We've talked about that before, when you have a cancer diagnosis that you're thinking you did something wrong.  Your body and your mind and your emotions need your love and your compassion. 

So what I thought we could do today will be an interesting guided meditation with imagery, with breathing and with introspection.  And I chose this particular meditation based off of some work that I do that was led by a psychotherapist named Richard Miller.  He's also a yoga therapist that pioneered a lot of this work for people with trauma and particularly PTSD.  And there's one particular practice that he gives us that talks about how you will imagine a particular situation or instance that you're struggling with.  It could be going to the hospital without feeling anxious.  It could be having a really tough conversation with a loved one about how you feel about your disease.  It could be talking about end of life with your loved ones, and how do you get through that.  Whatever that is for you, I want you to be able to imagine it and really feel it. 

And I want to tell you up front that sometimes this practice can be a little uncomfortable.  I just encourage you to use what I've taught you before, lean into whatever that feeling is that's coming up in your body or in your mind, your emotions, your breath, and really feel it.  Allow it to be validated.  Allow it to be heard and witnessed.  And as we do that, I'll be guiding you through how to visualize it in a different way with that realistic optimism, with that ability to see how you could overcome the obstacle.  All right. 

So go ahead, and you know the drill.  If you practice with me, you know what I'll have you do, which is sit up nice and tall wherever you are, or if you're listening to this in your bed, just relax into the bed.  Softly close your eyes.  And before we go any further with your eyes closed, just tune in to the overall emotion or mood of your physical body—the overall mood or emotion of your physical body.  Are you feeling tense?  Relaxed?  Is there a particular emotion that might be more prevalent than another? 

And notice your beautiful breath.  Notice as you inhale how the ribs feel, how your belly, how your chest feels.  Is it open and expansive, or does it feel tight, constricted, sticky, clunky?  And remember not to judge, just analyzing what your body, emotions, mind, breath feels like right in this moment.  Take a nice inhale expanding your ribs, expanding the belly, exhaling as long as you can, remembering that with a very extended exhale how we trigger our relaxation response in our own bodies.  Take one more nice inhale expanding the ribs, then exhaling as long as you can.  And then allow the breath to come and go at its own pace naturally, relaxed. 

And see if you can relax any part of your body or your entire body just even 5 percent more than you already are.  Relax your shoulders, your jaw.  Bring to mind in this moment something, someone or a situation that you might be struggling with in your life.  Could be handling treatment.  It could be fear of a scan, a result, a conversation you need to have.  Just notice, bring it to mind. 

As you bring that situation to mind notice any sensations that might be arising in your physical body—maybe in the belly area, the chest, your throat, your mind.  And stay with whatever sensation is arising, whatever is there, let it be there, embracing it, holding it, validating it.  Bring all the awareness into the middle of your heart.  Visualize your precious, beating sweet little heart. 

And bring to mind the color green filling up and swirling around inside your heart, inside your entire chest, lungs, heart.  As you begin to take a nice inhale, breathe into your chest and your heart, your lungs.  Imagine yourself going into that situation or facing that loved one with an open, compassionate, soft and gentle heart, removing any resistance, leaning into the experience. 

Taking a nice inhale, still visualizing that green color, and as you exhale send your breath into that space in your body, your physical body that felt what it did a few moments ago.  Wherever you might be feeling a sensation, take an inhale, expand the heart, the belly, the chest, and as you exhale send the breath right into that space in your physical body that needs that compassion, that needs that relaxation. 

Begin to visualize yourself in that situation with success.  How would it feel inside, in your emotions, your body, your mind, how would it feel to face that situation or that person with success, with love, with compassion?  How would that feel?  Really visualize it.  Keep the heart open.  Taking a nice inhale, expanding the entire front side of the body and exhaling as long as you possibly can.  And then take two more rounds of that nice expanded inhale and then exhaling as long as you possibly can.  Do that one or two more times on your own. 

Begin to notice in your physical body how it feels.  Is it different than when we first sat down together?  Notice any areas of tension that have faded away, any emotions that have shifted or lessened.  Maybe that uncomfortable feeling might have gone away.  Whatever it is, notice without judgment.  Whatever it is is exactly what's meant to be there. 

Softly let the corners of your mouth gently turn upward, just a smidge of a smile, feeling relaxed and at peace, feeling that you're tenacious and that you can persevere through what you need to do to feel well and healthy and accomplish that vision, those milestones, and really, really feel empowered to make a change for yourself despite what might be coming your way.  Whenever you're ready, you can softly blink open your eyes. 

Thank you so much for joining us today.  As always, if you have any questions, you can reach out to me through Patient Power.  And you can find any of these videos and so much more in the portal that's on Patient Power, and I look forward to seeing you next month.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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