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How I Prevent the Old Norm of Work Stress from Returning After Cancer

When I was in the middle of active treatment for breast cancer, I could not wait for my life to return to how it was pre-diagnosis. Of course, many people told me that instead, I would find a new normal. I embraced that thought, and began to think about what that would be like — and how I would leave behind the old stressors that only caused my mind and body harm. For me, that meant working too much.I truly believe work-related stress can cause inflammation in the body, which only harms it.

Fast forward two years. I chose to work for myself after cancer, in part so I could control my work hours, allow myself grace when I needed it and have the necessary flexibility in my life. And, it's been wonderful. I have a thriving freelance business and am grateful for my clients. But, I also realize how diligent I must be to allow my mind a break when I get overwhelmed. Without that break, the stress creeps back in and I am fearful of that aspect of my life returning to "normal."

If you're like me, it helps to know that others have experienced similar feelings and what they have done to help ensure that "normal" does not return. It's especially important and challenging to stave off the stress now, during the pandemic. Not only does the pandemic create an extra layer of stress, but it removes the typical avenues for relief, as we can't go out to live music shows or hang out with friends. Everyone has different ways of stress relief, but those were two of mine.

Instead, try these stress-relievers.

  1. Go for walk outside. There's nothing like the feeling of the sun on your body, and why not soak up Vitamin D while you head out to relax? Notice the sound of birds chirping or watch the joy in dogs' movements as they run and play.

  2. Go for a run. It's a great way to let off steam, to practice mindfulness as you run (focusing on your breath, letting all worries melt away) and to explore your neighborhood. This has allowed me to discover an awesome park in my neighborhood, complete with a running trail, acres of green grass, trees, a golf course and baseball diamonds. The serotonin your body releases with a run will boost your mood.

  3. Do something creative. Paint canvas or rocks. Make cards. Whatever you do, have fun. I take an art class on Zoom through my local Gilda's Club, and it's amazing. The escape I find from it is as much about the community I find there as it is in engaging both hemispheres of my brain, which happens when you do art. That allows you to solve problems, and it may help you to work out a challenge you have puzzling your brain.

  4. Do yoga. Again, this is of course great for mindfulness, but it reminds me my problems aren't so big. It helps me recalibrate my mind to focus on what is important — simply living life. That's because with yoga, I focus on my breathing and how my body feels. It's a reminder for me to take care of myself, and it releases my tension.

  5. Take a bubble bath. This has always been an escape of mine, because I know the only thing I can do while taking a bubble bath is to read a book or just be. I can't very easily take my work into a tub of water.

  6. Bake or cook. Baking or cooking are also creative, and allow you to focus on nourishing your body or treating yourself with what you are making.

Whatever you do to relieve your stress, know that it is the ultimate in self-care, and it is important. It is more important than trying to accomplish one more thing in the day, when you're already tired. At the end of the day what matters is your health — not that you accomplished an additional task today. The peace and health you will feel is more important than that. You can finish that extra task tomorrow, when you are refreshed. And, that will safeguard your mental health and keep you more productive in the long run.

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