How to think about your own mortality (without getting depressed)

Skepticism

As they say in my country, the only thing that separates us from the animals are mindless superstition and pointless ritual.
Latka Gravas in “Taxi”
Since God is silent, man is his own master; he must live in a disenchanted world, submit everything to criticism, and make his own way.
Peter Gay

Coping with a serious illness tip 1: Reach out for support

Facing a life-threatening illness can leave you feeling alone and cut off from even those closest to you. You may feel that other people can’t understand what you’re going through. Or perhaps those around you are trying to be so positive that you don’t feel able to open up and express how you really feel. Or perhaps you’re worried about being a burden to other people if you talk honestly about what you’re experiencing. Whatever your situation, now is not the time to retreat into your shell.

Social support can have a huge impact on your mental health when you’re facing the stress of a serious medical condition. As well as providing practical assistance, such as driving you to medical appointments or aiding you with household chores, having people to lean on is essential to your emotional well-being. Staying connected to others and continuing to enjoy social activities can make a world of difference in your mood and outlook as you undergo treatment. 

A number of studies have demonstrated a higher survival rate following a cancer diagnosis, for example, among people who are married compared to those who are not. This can likely be attributed to the greater social support offered by a spouse and children. Of course, you don’t need to be married or in a long-term relationship to benefit from the support of others.

Choose the support that’s right for you. After a serious diagnosis or health event, who you choose to confide in, lean on, and the amount of information you elect to share about your medical situation are always very personal decisions. But trying to tough it out alone will only deny those who care about you the chance to offer support.

Don’t let worries about being a burden keep you from reaching out. The people who care about you will be flattered by your trust and won’t judge you as weak or being a burden. Reaching out to them will only strengthen the bond between you.

Look for support from friends and loved ones who are good listeners. When you choose to confide in someone, try to find someone who’s a good listener—someone who’ll listen attentively and compassionately without being distracted, judging you, or trying to tell you how you should think or feel.

Make face-time a priority. While it’s always good to have support from friends and loved ones via phone, text, or social media, it’s important to find in-person support as well. Connecting face to face with someone who cares about you can play a huge role in relieving stress and boosting your mood.

Join a support group. A support group can be a safe place to talk about what you’re going through and get coping tips from others who are undergoing similar medical problems. Don’t be put off if you don’t click with the first group you try—it can sometimes take several attempts to find the group that works best for you.

Seek out a peer support program. There are many disease-specific organizations that can match you with a person who has survived the same type of medical condition. Whether it’s in-person, online, or via telephone, you can receive one-on-one support from someone who has firsthand experience of what you’re experiencing.

Feel that you don’t have anyone to turn to?

Many of us find ourselves alone at some point in life. It can be especially tough when you’re also facing a serious illness. But even if you feel that you have no family or close friends to lean on, that doesn’t mean you have to face your challenges alone.

As well as taking advantage of the support groups and peer support programs mentioned above, there are also plenty of things you can do to expand your social network  to find support—even at this difficult time.

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Controlling anxiety about dying

Accepting your mortality can also be freeing, as one of the consequences can be making more conscious choices in the present. Indeed if we can strive to control how anxiety about death impacts upon us, we can avoid potentially negative or destructive behaviour and focus positively on the time we have.

It’s said that to remind himself of the shortness of life, the Italian saint Charles Borromeo kept a human skull on a little table in his house. That might be a bit too much for us today, and yet, the reality is that death can happen at any moment.

Fr Neil McNicholas, author of A Catholic Approach to Dying, says: “The thought that ‘each day you awaken could be the last you have’ could sound very depressing, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Tip 3: Manage stress

Stress can contribute to or exacerbate many different health problems, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal disorders, chronic pain, post-operative and wound healing, and some side effects of cancer and cancer treatments. Practicing stress management techniques, however, can help you manage these health issues.

Even after you’ve had a heart attack or heart surgery, for example, stress management can help by bolstering the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation or reducing the amount of medication you need to control your blood pressure. If you’re dealing with a cancer diagnosis, managing stress can help you relieve anxiety, alleviate fatigue and sleep disturbances, and boost your mood.

Whatever your specific diagnosis, the following stress management tips can help improve your overall health and wellbeing:

Talk to someone you trust. Nothing eases stress more effectively than chatting face-to-face with a friend or loved one—another good reason to maintain social ties and activities.

Adopt a relaxation practice. Practicing a relaxation technique such as mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or deep breathing can help you feel calmer, lower your blood pressure, and ease stress.

Get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can exacerbate stress just as stress can make it harder to get a good night’s sleep. You can break the cycle and ensure you get enough good quality sleep at night by modifying your daytime habits and developing a peaceful bedtime routine.

Be as active as possible. Exercise is an effective way to burn-off tension and relieve stress, and it can leave you feeling more relaxed and positive throughout the day. Even if your medical condition has limited your mobility, there may still be ways for you to get active and reap the benefits.

Catholic prayers for the dead and dying

There are specific Catholic prayers in relation to death and dying. Some are intended for a specific point in an individual’s journey, others for after death has occurred for use by family and friends. All should bring relief and some comfort at a very difficult time. Read more here.

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