I had a bout of scanxiety last month. That word describes the tangle of worry, fear and anxiety caused by going for medical tests or scans. It’s quite normal and inevitable in the life of a cancer survivor. Those living with other chronic diseases are familiar with it, too.

The time rolls around for your annual mammogram or Pap smear, or your once-a-decade colonoscopy.  You develop an odd symptom that could be cancer and your doctor recommends an X-ray. Any of these can provoke scanxiety that escalates to a full-fledged worry fest.

Scanxiety is entirely normal, but my intention this year and beyond is to find ways to spend less time worrying and more time joyfully appreciating each day.

I’d Rather Have More Joy

Knowing that scanxiety is normal helps me accept it. That stops me from piling self-criticism on top of the worry!  But I’m pursuing something more than accepting myself for worrying. I want to find ways to sit with worry without being consumed by it.

That means not magnifying worry until it spirals out of control. I found an approach that got me through a recent scanxiety episode. I wasn’t worry free, but I was worry light. I was sent for an X-ray for a sudden, unusual rib pain. I knew that it could be, but probably was not, a tumor. And yes, despite my regular, deeply relaxing self-Reiki practice, I got pretty anxious. I needed something more.

I used a simple practice for decreasing worry and increasing joy that involved acknowledgment, acceptance and affirmation, and it worked for me. I’ll tell you more about next.

The approach I used helped me to accept my worries without getting overtaken by them. That was fortunate, since the first X-ray was inconclusive. I had to go back for more detailed views of my ribs, prolonging the scanxiety-provoking situation!

Everything turned out to be okay, a perfect example of why I don’t want to spend time in an unpleasant state of unnecessary worry!

A Simple Practice for Increasing Joy

The approach I used was simple. It involved accepting and then shifting away from anxious thoughts and focusing my attention on an affirming word or phrase. You don’t have to be a cancer survivor or wait for a time of major worry to use this idea. 

It’s a way of accepting and then shifting attention from difficult thoughts and feelings to those that help us feel calm and centered.

This is a great practice for anyone to use. The more regularly we use it, the better it works when it’s needed in highly stressful times. 

Why it Works

When it comes to positive and negative feelings, the brain responds like an on-off switch: it cannot focus on both at the same time…

~ Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman, Words Can Change Your Brain, 2012

It works because it’s pretty much impossible to for us to focus on both negative and positive thoughts and  feelings at the same time. Gently and intentionally shifting our focus from worry to affirmation is powerful. It reduces worry and dissapates the anxiety and fear it can cause, making room for more joy in our lives.

Give It a Try!

When you notice yourself feeing worried or scared, take a few deep, slow, calming breaths. Then slowly read through the words in the graphic above. Without effort or analysis, see which word speaks to you about what you most need right now. Let your feelings guide you in this choice, rather than thinking about it too much. 

The word that chooses you in this way is your affirmation, focusing you positively on a guiding intention. It helps you maintain or return to a calm, centered and focused state.

Make the Affirmation Yours

You can turn any of these words into a brief phrase if that works best for you. Example: For me, “safety” became “I am safe in my body.” Add any affirming words or phrases to this list that work well for you. 

Use your word or phrase to: gently shift your thoughts from negative self-talk; remind yourself of your positive intention; or to meditate upon. You can write it on a card or sticky note as a visual reminder. It can serve as a writing prompt. And you can come back to choose a different word whenever you wish.

I focus on my phrase in ways that easily fit into my life: while walking my dog; for a few minutes while sitting quietly and deep breathing; and while giving myself Reiki. There are all sorts of “right ways” to use your affirmation, so be creative in trying what is fun and helpful to you.

I’m interested in knowing what you think about all this!

Here’s a closing reflection: What did it feel like to focus on your word or phrase? What did you notice as you did it? What do you notice now? Do you have a different, or additional, daily practice for reducing worry and increasing joy that you prefer?

Sources and Credit

Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman, Words Can Change Your Brain, 2012.

Content in graphic adapted from Donald Altman’s book, The Joy Compass, 2012.

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