[Skip to Content]

How to get your mind off a cancer diagnosis long enough to get a good night's sleep

Kaushal Nanavati, MD

Kaushal Nanavati, MD

Q & A with Kaushal Nanavati, MD

“Most people who are depressed or anxious are troubled about a past that we cannot go back to change or a future that may not even come to fruition. In that process, we miss out on living the present moment. When you are worrying about your diagnosis, that worry is about a future that may or may not be. So to calm your mind, here are several techniques you can use.

“The first is to practice deep breathing. When you go to bed, lay down comfortably. Then take a slow deep breath in through your nose. As you do, expand your stomach like a balloon. Then breathe out slowly through your mouth, deflating that balloon. Some people like to chant “AUM” when breathing out. Others may have something else that they focus on. The point is to focus on the breath. When your mind starts to wander, just come back to focus on your breath and continue breathing. You can do it for 5 to 10 minutes or longer if you wish. This will help to calm your mind.

“Another technique is to write all the stresses in your life at the present moment on a piece of paper. Then on a separate piece of paper, make two columns. One column can be labeled “Things I can do something about,” and the other can be labeled, “Things I cannot control.” Take all of your stresses and sort them into the two columns.

“The things you can do something about become your list of action items. Take one item at a time, and make a plan to complete it. Once done, use a marker to cross it off your list. As you see this list shrinking, you know you are actively living and taking care of the stresses in your life.

“The other side of the page is filled with things that you can‘t directly control. Whenever your mind goes to that side, bring it back to your action item list and pick a stressor to resolve.

“None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. The life we live is lived today. However, when told you have cancer, suddenly this label threatens the plans you may have made and makes us more concerned about things that we feel are unfinished, or regret words that have been spoken or not said.

“You don't need to receive a diagnosis to start closing those loops. The time is now, and you are the answer. Create contentment and peace in your life each day, and start being more selfish. Selfish is good when it is self-care, self-love, and self-respect.”