'THINK' Yourself Well

Overwhelmed with Cancer-Related Fear? This Doctor Has a Love-Based Solution

+ CV Skinlabs Team

When we’re going through cancer (or caring for someone who is) and feeling overwhelmed, afraid, anxious, and stressed, wouldn’t it be nice if we had a switch to turn it all off and feel better, now?

According to Benson-Henry Institute Senior Physician Dr. Eva Selhub, we all have such a button. It’s called “love.” And this switch doesn’t just help us feel better, it helps us heal.

“From the very beginning, right after we’re born,” Dr. Eva says, “the very first thing we learn is love. When we cry, someone holds us. When we’re hungry, someone gives us food.

These things create receptors that allow us to take in love, which regulates our whole body/mind physiology, turns off the stress response, and teaches us to trust.”

Author of the book The Love Response, Dr. Eva says that most health problems begin with one thing-stress. We’re not just talking about the feeling you have when you’ve got a big report due at work, though that can be part of it. As Eva explains it, stress happens anytime there’s something missing.

“Most of the time, your body and mind are working without letting you know. They’re scanning the database, asking, do we have enough? If the answer is yes, they just keep performing and you go on doing what you’re doing. If, however, you’re cold, tired, hungry, or even angry, they kick in stress to get your attention. Warning: You don’t have enough warmth, strength, food, or calm. If that situation continues without being corrected, your brain and body move into the fear response.”

In the fear response, mind and body suffer. Life is stressful, so any of us can fall into the fear response at any time. The key is not to let it continue unchecked, because it can be a catalyst for disease, or can leave us defenseless in fighting a condition we may already have. It breaks down the immune system, encourages fat cells to grow, and throws the whole physiology out of whack. “Every disease we know of exists because of a lack of ability to regulate the stress response,” Dr. Eva says.

Multiple things can turn on the stress, or fear, response. Toxins in the environment, poor eating habits, lack of exercise, massive traumas, emotional upheaval, bad relationships, low self esteem, and the list goes on. Pretty much anything that makes us feel bad can flip the switch. If you or a loved one is going through cancer, you can bet that you’re dealing with this fear response in a very big way. What can you do to turn it around, and help yourself heal?

This is where the love response comes in. Dr. Eva describes this response as the opposite of the fear response-a place where the body and mind feel loved, cared for, safe, and whole. When we’re in this place, the body responds with physical changes that support the immune system, clear the mind, and fuel strength to handle any situation. “In the love response, we’re turning off stress chemicals, opening up brain centers that allow us to think more clearly, turning off the cortisol that’s suppressing the immune system, and relaxing into the experience of love.”

To get started stimulating your love response, Dr. Eva suggests these five steps:

  1. Get a guided-mediation CD that helps you relax and center yourself. Listen to it 10-20 minutes a day, and while you’re getting chemotherapy or any other procedure. It helps relax the body and mind, which supports the immune system. Studies have shown that meditation CDs during treatment also help minimize side effects.
  2. Improve your diet. Avoid fats, sugars, and processed foods, which are all difficult for the body to utilize, and choose more fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and water.
  3. Join a support group and start connecting with others.
  4. Work on positive appreciation. Start a journal in which you record four things about your life and about yourself that you appreciate every night, and read those four things aloud in front of the mirror every morning.
  5. When you’re feeling badly, perform this visualization, which Dr. Eva calls “SHIELD.”
    1. S-slow down. Take a moment to be quiet with yourself. Imagine a warm, golden light shining down upon you, wrapping you up in love.
    2. H-honor how you feel right now. Don’t judge it. Just become aware of it.
    3. I-inhale.
    4. E-don’t forget to exhale.
    5. L-listen to your needs. What’s missing? Do you need love, sleep, comfort, chocolate?
    6. D-decide. Shift into the love response and be loving to yourself. Take action to get what you need, and say several times over, “The support I need is here. I am loved and I am valued.” Imagine your best idea of love-someone holding you, arms from above cradling you, the shield protecting you, or whatever feels loving to you.

Dr. Eva Selhub, MD, is the medical director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and founder of Alight Center for Healing in Newton, MA. You can find her book, CDs, blog, and more at her web site.

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