1. What can I do about my distressing thoughts and feelings?
There is tremendous pressure on everyone diagnosed with cancer to “stay positive” . Books, magazines and television programs even suggest you can beat cancer with positive thinking. Being optimistic is certainly a happier state of mind to be in than always expecting the worst. However, the pressure to keep positive can have negative effects. People feel as if their feelings don’t count. As if they are letting people down, being silly or being weak. Yet why wouldn’t we feel awful when something awful has happened? The truth is that people are not happy all of the time. They just get really good at hiding their distress.
Research suggests that many people are distressed, depressed, anxious, afraid of intimacy, lonely, and burnt out. Not only are many people feeling generally distressed, research also suggests that around one in six Australian men suffer from a diagnosable depression at any given time and women are twice as likely as men to be depressed. About 1 in 3 people diagnosed with cancer will struggle with depression or anxiety.
So, it does not look like people have an easy time controlling what they think and feel. Maybe nobody is good at controlling their thoughts and feelings.
Most of us go through life thinking that difficult feelings are bad or dangerous, and that we should try to control them. A part of us believes we should be able to feel happy and hopeful most of the time. Self-help books tell us to have a “positive attitude” and we will be able to do anything. The mainstream culture tells use to “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative….”. Well-meaning friends and family tell us to try to be happier. We live in a culture that tells us we should be able to control our feelings and thoughts.
The problem is, negative thoughts and feelings don’t respond very well when we try to get rid of them. When difficult thoughts and feelings show up, they show up for good reasons and they come and go as they please.
You are facing a very difficult time in your life, and it will be natural for you to feel sadness, uncertainty, panic, fear, and even anger. It is normal to feel these things.
But what if you didn’t have to get rid of your difficult thoughts and feelings in order to live a life that really matters to you?