A ‘Down Day’ – They Happen After Cancer

by Barbara Cunnings-Versaevel

This fact was hard (for) meToday is Saturday as I’m writing this article for your Thursday newsletter. I’ve had a busy two weeks – intense – lots happening. When I woke up this morning, I felt drained. I knew it was a ‘down’ day.

I’m sure most of you have experienced this kind of day. They happen quite regularly since cancer as I’ve noticed my body did not come back the way it was before treatment and the cancer diagnosis. It shifted. Energy seems to be a commodity that I have to manage so that I don’t run out. Despite my best intentions and foresight, it still happens. Sometimes, it is simply unavoidable. Life happens.

When this occurs, I know enough to take a break. If I try to push through this stage, there are dire consequences. This is the place that sickness happens. My immune system will weaken, if not shut down, and I leave myself open to whatever is going around. Mostly colds, but flu and general malaise can follow.

In this tired and empty state is where depression and low self esteem lie in wait. Reality is often ignored and old habits, patterns of thinking, and emotional scars emerge. Even though I may have dealt with all of these issues, in a weakened state, they can still crop up and cause me unhappiness and distress.

This alone is reason enough to keep myself at top functioning form. What does it take – to stay at top functioning form? It takes attention to the following:

  1. Awareness – this means reading my body’s signals. Does my body feel tired? Am I sleeping well? Am I craving foods I normally don’t eat and know are not good for my health? Am I short on patience? Is my thinking foggy?
  2. Acknowledgement – this means being honest with myself knowing that this happens if I’m not mindful. It means accepting that there are some things we cannot change. We just need to monitor the situation and take appropriate action.
  3. Scheduling – this means watching my schedule. Did I leave enough room between appointments? Is there time to prepare for meetings/workshops? Is there time for both action items and learning? Also is there time to just be still and let thoughts settle? This is my creative time, thinking time, resting my brain time, etc.
  4. Rest – this means am I getting sufficient rest. Quality sleep is the key. When life starts to get too busy, too many demands, too many ideas, sleep becomes elusive. This spiral leads to low energy which leads to low productivity – a hard cycle to break. It often takes just stopping, resting, and getting sleep. The rest allows tasks to be completed with more ease, less time, and higher productivity. It is the law of diminishing returns.
  5. Diet – this means paying attention to the ‘fuel’ I put into my body. Being prepared by having the proper foods on hand for meals and snacks so I don’t grab what is convenient but possibly not as nourishing. Food can play a huge role in our energy levels. Foods that don’t agree with us can make us feel tired. Identifying these foods is important. On the other hand, foods that energize us are good to know. You can tell by how your body feels after you eat.
  6. Exercise – this means getting fresh air and oxygen into your system to rev up your ‘engine’. When I feel down or tired or just out of sorts, a walk will usually clear my head and help me feel better. If I am too far down the ladder of tired, it will help me sleep as I’ve walked or exercised off the toxins in my system allowing my body to relax into a deep sleep. I don’t like to get this far down, but it does happen when there are commitments I can’t move.

On down days, I have other ways to work around the situation. I often take these days to simply do activities that I enjoy. I do them without guilt that I should be doing something else – there is that old word ‘should’ which can creep back into your vocabulary.

These are some of my activities that fill my soul and lead me back to energy wholeness:

  1. Reading – all my life, I have been a voracious reader. As a youngster, I was always at the library signing out books. I recall my Mom trying to get me to play outside when I was deep into a book. Time drifts away and I am totally engrossed in another world. When I look up, sometimes I notice that my dog has been bringing toys to catch my attention. They will be ringed around my feet. When I don’t notice after a period of time, the whining and barking starts.
  2. Music – listening to music is soothing depending on your music of choice. When I’m tired, I gravitate to classical, new age, and spiritual music. Something instrumental or inspiring. If I need energy for a task when I’m tired – like cleaning the house – I will put on music with a great beat. Then I end up dancing around the house in between cleaning. Got to make it fun.
  3. A Walk – there is nothing like a walk outside with my dog. This walk when I’m really tired or lethargic is not my power walk for fitness. This will be my walk to look around and enjoy nature, stop to notice a flower or a view, to sit on a bench and meditate, to visit with a fellow walker, or to just breathe deeply and enjoy the fresh air.
  4. Knitting – this is a quiet activity that helps my brain unwind. I feel as though I’m accomplishing something at the same time I am relaxing. I can knit and visit or knit and watch TV. I used to study and knit when I was going to school. During rehearsals when I was in the theatre, I’d knit so I could keep on top of what was happening and be ready when they needed me. If I was reading, I might get too involved in my book and miss a cue.
  5. Cooking – sometimes making soup or a great meal can be relaxing on a down day. When the boys were all at home, I’d spend time making muffins or bread. I’d look up new recipes to expand our menus. I could do this at a leisurely pace throughout the day as I restored my energy bank.
  6. Afternoon Nap – when I’m really tired, an afternoon nap is required. I try hard not to get to this place, but when I do, I know I’ve reached my limit. It’s called STOP and RESTORE. Nothing gets accomplished past this point. Since I’m not one to take regular naps as my mother did throughout her life, my naps happen at the bottom end of my energy cycle. If I were smart, I might add them in as a regular part of my day, but I remember resisting afternoon naps when I was going to school. My mother insisted on them the days I had evening performances. I gave her grief for having to lie down, but they did work. I could get up for school the next morning. Mother knew best.

Finding your own individual pattern of energy cycles is important. We are all different. However, going through cancer treatment will definitely shift how you managed before cancer. Your energy reserves will be different and possibly even the signs. When you let your guard down, it affects the effectiveness of your immune system, a critical component for healing and wellness.

Down days will happen. Life is not perfect. We are not perfect. Learning how to manage those times is a process which will evolve over time. Just acknowledging that diminishing energy reserves are a reality is a first step to better health and management of this important resource. It took me a while to acknowledge that I needed to pay more attention and energy management was going to be an ongoing fact of life. This fact was hard for me, a high energy, driven person, to admit, but it was totally necessary for me to move forward into a future without cancer.

What about you? How are you managing? I’d love to hear how you are dealing with ‘down’ days. What helps you restore your energy bank?

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