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Clinical Perspective

Protect Your Quality of Life From Lymphedema By Elizabeth McMahon


esearch consistently reports that lymphedema decreases quality of life. Because lymphedema self-care requires specialized knowledge and skill, most articles focus, understandably, on physical care skills. What is often not covered are ways to cope with the stress and difficult emotions lymphedema can trigger. This article is different. It focuses on you—not your body. Emotional self-care helps you protect your quality of life and increase your happiness. Increasing happiness Do you want to be happier? Most of us do. What can you do to live the best life possible, in spite of lymphedema? Can you increase your happiness? Positive psychology is discovering answers to these questions. Research findings show that by taking specific actions, you can experience more positive emotions, increase your happiness, and improve your quality of life. Happiness and health Increasing positive emotions is especially important for people who have a chronic medical condition, like lymphedema. Positive emotions are associated with better health, better self-care, longer life,

decreased pain sensitivity, and more satisfying relationships, as well as other benefits. This article focuses on one of the proven ways to increase happiness in the midst of life’s problems: gratitude. Gratitude People who experience and express gratitude feel happier. This is true for people with chronic illness, for people experiencing life difficulties, even for people who are dying. At any moment throughout the day, you can look at what you have to complain about, or you can look at what you have to be grateful for. How you look at your life, and where you focus, makes a difference in how you feel. See for yourself Right now, spend one minute thinking about your life while focusing on what is wrong. Think about the negative aspects of lymphedema and lymphedema care. Focus on problems, challenges, disappointments, losses, etc. Stop! What happened to your emotions during this time? What happened inside your body? Did you feel better or worse? When you think about lymphedema self-care, do you feel more hopeful and energized, or less? Let go of those negative thoughts. Let their

Elizabeth McMahon, PhD is a clinical psychologist in San Francisco ( who specializes in helping people overcome challenges and increase happiness. She co-authored The Lymphedema Caregiver’s Guide and co-edited Voices of Lymphedema.

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effects flow out of your body. Imagine changing the channel on your inner television. Alternatively, imagine your negative thoughts swirling down the drain like dirty dishwater, or blowing away like trash or snow blown by the wind, leaving a clean, open space. For the next minute, focus actively and deliberately on things you can be grateful for. You may think of large events: being alive, having friends or family, not living in a war zone. You may think of small, specific events: a family member’s caring act, an interaction with a friend, a stranger who held the door for you, the sight of beautiful trees or flowers. Focus on things related to lymphedema care for which you can be grateful: a caring healthcare provider, a helpful friend or relative, the presence of organizations and newsletters devoted to empowering people with lymphedema and reassuring you that you are not alone or forgotten. Stop. How do you feel now, emotionally and physically? How did your emotions change? What happened inside your body? Do you feel better or worse? When you think about lymphedema self-care, do you feel more hopeful and energized, or less? Your thoughts affect your emotions, and together thoughts and emotions affect your body and your actions. Gratitude reduces emotional and physical stress, making it easier to cope with lymphedema and carry out effective self-care. Benefits of gratitude Cultivating gratefulness is so powerful that Robert Emmons, PhD wrote an entire book on its benefits. He summarizes: “The evidence that cultivating gratefulness is good for you is overwhelming... By appreciating the gifts of the moment, gratitude frees us from past regrets and future anxieties. By cultivating gratefulness, we are freed from envy Summer 2013

Pathways Summer 2013  
Pathways Summer 2013