Published on March 30, 2017
At one point or another, I am sure you have participated in a group effort or activity where one person obsessively worries about things. Well, generally speaking, that person would be me! It is not that I am trying to be negative; it is just my predisposition to identify, manage and evade risk.
For example, my wife and I are daily caregivers to a disabled adult. We worry constantly about her health and what her life would be like if we passed away. We have been very proactive regarding the legalities to facilitate her long-term well-being. However, a recent call to 911 and an ambulance ride to the ER did little to assuage our worries.
Similarly, I worry daily about being able to pay my bills given that at my current employer, anybody nearing 60 seems to mysteriously vanish to “spend time with their families” or “pursue new opportunities.”
And yeah, that CLL thing always seems to be a lurking dark cloud out on my horizon. Every ache, pain or not being 100% in an athletic endeavor gets evaluated through the prism that it could be a sign of advancing leukemia. No worries there, right?
So, yes, there is a lot of daily worry and ongoing stress in my life. It is a lot to handle, but I have learned to take things one day at a time. This is hard for me because being a planner by nature; the best problems are the ones that have been avoided in the first place.
Stress, and the fight-or-flight response, in short bursts can sometimes be a good thing. It makes you more focused and allows you to perform beyond perceived limits. Anybody who has done public speaking or been in competitive sports knows about “butterflies.”
However, long-term stress like that imposed by chronic disease can be dangerous. Long-term exposure to stress can weaken the immune system, induce anxiety and depression, cause sleep problems, and impair cognition. Given the chronic nature of CLL, being able to manage stress constructively is necessary for long-term survival.
After being diagnosed, I worked with a therapist for a few months to help process the fact that I have an incurable cancer. One thing she said was that the highest order of self-preservation is to intellectualize a problem and the associated response. My instinctive wiring to be irreverent and find perverse humor in the worst situations has proven to be a good defense mechanism. Not Pollyannaish, just an offbeat way to cope.
As you may know by now, I exercise really intensely two to four days per week. Regularly jacking my heart rate up to 170 BPM for a few hours really drains most of the stress away. If I did not have that and other outlets, I probably would go crazy from stress. I certainly would be fatter!
In preparing this blog, I hit a mental block about other examples about how I manage stress. My wife suggested I make a list and after much thought, this what I came up with:
- Watch “Star Trek,” the original series.
- Watch more “Star Trek.”
- Watch even more “Star Trek” and switch to hockey during the commercials.
Yeah, I admit to being a bit of a nerd, and one of my escapist responses to stress is similarly nerdy. “Star Trek” is a modern version of the old TV show “Wagon Train.” An underlying theme of these shows is the hope engendered by a new day, new adventure and new places. For me, it is a small dose of healthy escapism and no day is complete without at least one “Star Trek” rerun.
Everybody has their own way of coping and dealing with stress. Not everybody rides a bike nor binge watches “Star Trek.” How do you manage stress? Please share your approach in the comment section, as it will help others in their battle.
Thank you for reading!
Always hope. Never quit.
- C.J. Chris
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