Episode 26: Techniques to manage stress and uncertainty with professor and author Dr. Manuela Kogon (Part 2)
What we discussed
Defining the term “stress” and the impact of elevated distress levels
How uncertainty activates the brain
3 techniques to manage stress and uncertainty
About our guest
Manuela Kogon is an integrative medicine internist in private practice and a clinical professor at a large university. Dr. Kogon has devoted her life to patients in distress and has helped them connect to their innate ability to heal. She divides her time between California, Europe and rural Massachusetts and is looking forward to the day when humans rediscover their ability to be emotionally present for their fellow beings. You can learn more about her book “When Cancer Visits: How to Free Your Mind from the Grip of Distress and Heal Your Jolted Nervous System" here.
Watch the video of our episode on YouTube
On defining stress.
We have to define it because part of the problem is that stress is a huge umbrella term for a million things. And in the context of cancer, I want people to think of it as activation, and in some ways, a chronic activation. So I can either be activated because I’m stimulated by an outside event, like a diagnosis of cancer. But it also happens from pressure from inside. The physics definition of stress is: a force applied to a surface area. So that's how I think of it for myself - what’s pressing from the outside and what’s pressing from the inside.
On dealing with uncertainty.
I’m an advocate for the self-regulation of thought. The problem with uncertainty is that it’s fueled by fearful thinking. I know for myself and many other people with or without cancer, thinking really gets out of hand. [So you ask] Can I do something about my thinking? Can I do something about my emotions? Can I do something about my behavior? And there, I always want people to see it in the context of ‘Am I doing these things as a representation of uncertainty and feeling out of control?’ Cancer is an out of control experience and no human likes that. We want control. And there are things you can control. You might not be able to control every single cancer cell in your body, but to some degree you can control your emotions, your actions and your thinking.
On the physical component of stress you can control.
People always talk about mind over body, but that’s not a philosophy I follow. For me, it’s really body over mind. There’s a joke where you see someone sitting on the sofa and the mind says ‘get up’ and the body says ‘no.’ And that is the cancer predicament. You should go for a walk, or you shouldn’t be eating that. The mind is very expressive in its demands and the body is like, no thank you – I can barely go to the bathroom, and I’m supposed to go for a walk? So I flip it. What is the body capable of doing? Something it can always do is breathing. The lungs and the heart and the brain are very closely linked through the vagus nerve. So how I breathe doesn’t just affect my heart, it also affects how I think.