7 Tips to Help Manage the Fear of Disease RecurrenceAuthor: Diplomat Pharmacy Date: May 05, 2020
“Every time I was seeing my doctor, ‘Can you give me any percentage? Can you give me any hope?’ And they can’t, ‘So don’t ask me how I am.’”
— A female cancer survivor talking about her prognosis1
For many chronic health conditions, there are no cures and no easy answers. Just because your condition is in remission doesn’t mean it won’t come back someday. The fear of recurrence — of health issues coming back — is a real fear for many people who have chronic conditions, even if they currently have no symptoms.
Some conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or psoriasis, are lifelong, and the fear is when and how they’ll recur. For other conditions, such as cancer, there is a chance they will not recur — the worry is will they.2
Although these are different kinds of fears, there are ways to manage both of them. By validating and exploring your fear of recurrence, you can help control and understand it.
Seven Ways to Manage the Fear of Recurrence
Recognize and validate your emotions.
Fear can be a wrenching experience, so many people look for a way to avoid it. They might be scared to experience the fear. They might even feel as though they “shouldn’t” be afraid or that they should be “stronger than this.”
The truth is that everyone experiences fear, and that’s not always bad — fear can protect us and keep us from danger. Trying to avoid or hide fear only makes it stronger. Accepting that you are afraid — and that it is okay to feel that way — is the first step toward managing your fear.2,3
Find out what triggers your fear — and make a plan.
Certain places or events might trigger your fears of recurrence: going to a hospital, coming up to the anniversary date of your diagnosis, or even hearing someone talk about your condition. By figuring out what your triggers are, you can plan ways to cope with them. If you’re scared to visit the hospital for an appointment, you can call your healthcare team to learn what will happen during your appointment. Then, visualize yourself getting through each of those steps successfully.4 Using deep-breathing techniques can help you relax and manage stress as it arises. You can also ask a friend or family member to go with you and provide support.
Arm yourself with credible information.
No one can predict your future, but your healthcare team can come closer than anyone else. They know your health history and the specifics of your condition.3 While talk shows, magazines, and websites might offer misleading or inaccurate information, your healthcare team can tell you exactly what symptoms and events need their follow-up.
Don’t face the fear alone.
Talking about your fear is the opposite of hiding it. Your family and friends are a good first choice to discuss your condition and your fears. However, they might not be willing to talk, or they might not be equipped to understand what you’re going through. Many people find it more helpful to talk with people who have also had their health condition. Support groups, either in person or online, can connect you with people who have had similar struggles and successes.4
Write out what’s bothering you.
The process of journaling lets you sort out and clarify your fears and struggles, and you can express all your emotions exactly as you feel them without worrying about hurting anyone. A journal can be on paper, in a document on your computer, or on a written or video blog. There are no rules for journaling — discuss whatever you’re feeling.5
Take steps to reduce your overall stress.
Working to lower your overall stress level can help your specific fears about recurrence. Getting enough sleep and eating right can help your body better cope with stress. Another easy way to reduce stress levels is to focus on what you’re grateful for. Research has shown that consciously feeling and expressing gratitude — for things big and small — can significantly boost your overall happiness.6
Physical activities can also help. One study about the fear of cancer recurrence showed that mind-body tools helped lower anxiety levels.7
- Meditation has been shown to be effective — both traditional meditation and activities such as yoga and tai chi.
- Deep breathing and breathing exercises can also help.
- Consider setting aside a dedicated “worry time” during the day when you allow yourself to feel anxious about the possibility of recurrence — and then push all your worrying to that time.
If your fears about recurrence are so frequent that they are interfering with your normal daily activities, consider whether talking with a professional would help. You might be experiencing the early stages of depression.2,3,4
Be patient with yourself.
No matter what chronic condition you have, the fear of recurrence is very real — and it can be difficult, painful, and unpleasant no matter how long you’ve lived with it. However, it does tend to get better over time. Following the tips above can help you manage it so you can live your daily life.4
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