Recently, a friend told me about feeling increased anxiety. She had had a kidney transplant over 20 years ago, but, now in her 60s, she finds herself getting very upset with any new physical symptom.
I could immediately relate to her because, after my ovarian cancer diagnosis, I am hyper conscious of any new pain, stomach upset, or headache. The slightest new symptom unleashes the fear that a shoe has dropped and the cancer tumors have begun to grow again.
Most people I know in their 60s also have differing physical conditions – arthritis, difficulty with night vision, memory… the list is long. Yet, once having a serious and life-threatening condition, the stakes suddenly become extremely high.
For me, the sense of vulnerability extends beyond worrying about physical conditions – to other aspects of my life. I suddenly become nervous about things that I never worried about in the past, such as taking my dogs for a walk.
I find myself worrying, “What if another dog is loose and attacks us?” I wonder whether I will be capable of doing anything about it.
While I do not think my friend or I have full-blown PTSD, we do have increased anxiety, and I’m sure many other women feel the same way.
By age 60 most of us have suffered at least one, if not more, devastating or traumatic life experiences: the loss of a loved one, divorce, and/or a serious life-threatening disease. Not to mention that aging in itself may bring forth a feeling of vulnerability.
So, I decided to investigate PTSD.
On the cancer.net website I found information on PTSD in cancer survivors stating that feelings of anxiety and dread are a normal reaction to cancer. I contend that these feelings of worry and fear are normal for everyone who has had traumatic experiences in their lives.
Cancer.net describes the PTSD symptoms as being different in different people. For some it can include nightmares, flashbacks, and strong emotions of hopelessness, guilt, or shame. For others it manifests in anger and/or fear.
People with PTSD might lose interest in relationships and avoid going out or to places that bring back frightening memories. Others shut down emotionally or start numbing those feelings with drugs or alcohol. The recommended treatment for PTSD is therapy, medication, and support groups.
For those of us who feel vulnerable or anxious, but do not feel our situation rises to the level of a diagnosed case of PTSD, here are some tips I have found that can help.
The feelings of vulnerability are normal, and we should not beat ourselves up about them. As stated above, these are natural reactions and that very realization can calm us.
Meditation and yoga relax us and can connect us to a deeper sense of spirituality. Exercise keeps our body healthy, energizes us, and makes us strong.
Keeping our minds sharp and stimulated is motivating and invigorating. Mental stimulation can come from studying a language, reading, writing, and playing games like scrabble, mahjong, and chess.
Staying connected with our personal life mission and values, whether it has to do with relationships, community involvement, social justice, or religion. That sense of purpose gives meaning to our lives.
Talking with friends and family helps us feel connected and reminds us that we are not alone. Sometimes we need to ask for help (to drive us somewhere at night or walk the dogs with us). It can be hard to ask, but often we find that our loved ones are happy to help.
Being of service also gives meaning to our lives and takes our focus away from our problems.
Trying to find joy in our lives and regularly do things that give us pleasure will bring daily moments of happiness. For each of us fun comes in different ways. It can include things such as cooking, gardening, nature trailing, reading, travel, sharing a meal with friends, and more.
The dark of night is the time when we often ponder the huge unsolvable problems in our lives. By saying that we will think about our problems in the morning and banishing them from our minds we can keep feelings of panic at bay.
If none of these things seem to help, therapy and support groups, and in some cases medication, are always an option. The main thing is not to be hard on ourselves or become isolated in the process.
In any event, we need not feel embarrassed or ashamed to address our vulnerabilities, nor should we treat these feelings as inevitable or as our “new normal.”
What have you found to help when feelings of worry, anxiety, or vulnerability rear their ugly heads? Do you have any tips that work especially well for you? Please share them in the comments below!