It is absolutely normal to be upset when you are told you have melanoma. Whether early stage or advanced, your brain signals you are having a life threatening event. Your body then goes into a fight or flight state. I know it well. It happened to me when I was diagnosed with melanoma and had a breast cancer scare. When my husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I sat mute staring at the neurologist with full panic in my body, wanting to flee the room. A stressful situation can trigger a cascade of stress hormones that can make the heart pound and cause irregular breathing. Muscles contract and beads of sweat may appear. Some folks faint from not breathing correctly or get nauseated. Others have muscle tension and many times their back “goes out.” There’s no question our head is definitely connected to our body!
The “fight-or-flight” response evolved as a survival mechanism. It enables people and other creatures to react quickly to dangerous situations to fight the threat off or flee to safety. Unfortunately, the body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as traffic jams, work pressure, and relationship conflicts. But a melanoma diagnosis is considered life threatening eliciting a heightened reaction.
Over the years, researchers have learned not only how and why these reactions occur, but also that the long-term effects of chronic stress take a significant toll on the body. Research suggests that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction. Chronic stress may also contribute to obesity by causing people to eat more, while decreasing sleep and exercise. The opposite reaction can result in the inability to eat because of anxiety or sleeping excessively because of depression.
Tips to Combat Stress
It is certainly a challenge to find a way to put the brakes on stress. There is science to back up the fact that people can learn techniques to counter their stress reactions. Being aware that your body is reacting to stress is important. Your breathing pattern can be the gauge to a stressful reaction. Breathing deeply and slowly is a trick to give your body and mind a break and counter the stress response.
Here are some tips to help with anxiety and depression:
- Exercise: take a brisk walk shortly after feeling stressed, as it deepens breathing but also helps relieve muscle tension.
- Social Support: seek out friends, co-workers, relatives, spouses, and companions who all provide a caring social net and may increase longevity. Even internet support groups can be a good place to vent your feelings and get support.
- Eat Well: fresh vegetables and fruits and low meat and carbohydrate intake are suggested.
- Slow Down: especially with your thoughts! Clear your brain, or get a massage for a change of pace.
- Make Time for Hobbies: or take up a team sport. Get your mind off your issues when you can.
- Talk About Your Problems: professional counseling can be very helpful.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for medicine that is prescribed for anxiety or depression.
- Do avoid drinking alcohol since it may depress you further and increase anxiety. Marijuana may increase lethargy.
- Avoid negative people in your life. You just don’t need them.
- A furry pet may relieve stress: if you have the time and energy to take care of one.
Probably the hardest trick to remember is to live in the moment. You can’t control the past or the future, only the current moment you are in. Make that moment as joyful as possible.