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Three steps to alleviating anxiety when your brain stops making decisions

Updated: Nov 9, 2019


When I was interviewing Dr. Susan Heitler, Ph.D., a Denver clinical psychologist, for a magazine story a couple of years ago, I wanted to learn where anxiety comes from from. It is especially relevant now as anxiety is common among breast cancer survivors who wonder how to avoid breast cancer recurrence. Does anxiety come from a fear of an unresolved issue? Intense fear of what could happen? More than 40 million, or 19.1 percent, of US adults suffer from anxiety, so I know I am not alone. Throw being a breast cancer survivor on top of that, and I definitely know I am not alone.


Anxiety comes on when you feel decisions are not yours

Then, Heitler said that anxiety happens when the brain stops making decisions. When I heard her say that, it was an aha moment for me. Life sometimes throws things at you that provokes anxiety, especially when you feel a loss of control when you are fighting breast cancer. Or, when you are living in the aftermath of your treatment, unsure as to what happens next.

Regaining a sense of control

I have had some of my scariest life moments, thanks to breast cancer. I’m sure it was the same for some of those who have also faced cancer. So, what do you do when you are faced with anxiety?


Here are a few of Heitler’s tips, which she included in her book, Prescriptions Without Pills.

  1. List your concerns. Not only does writing them down how to organize your thoughts, but it helps you to see clearly what is creating your anxiety.

  2. Gather information. You may want to avoid what is troubling you, but focusing on it will make you feel better.

  3. Create solutions. What can you do to solve the problem?


Taking steps to alleviate anxiety

When I’m anxious, I know there is something I need to focus on, and as hard as it is to sit with the emotion, it’s a must. When I feel like I have a plan to solve whatever is troubling me, I feel better — that has been exactly case when fearing the possibility of a recurrence. To stop the anxiety, I learn what I can do to reduce the risk of my breast cancer coming back, and I act to lower that risk. That can mean switching to a plant-based diet, regularly working out to maintain a healthy weight and regularly eating leafy greens. When I put the ability to make decisions back into my hands, I feel less anxious.


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