8. Values and Meaning in Life
After a SCAD, it’s normal to feel a loss of control and uncertainty about the future. These can be scary feelings to live with and cause us even more stress. However, fear and uncertainty is almost inescapable after SCAD. Accepting this as part of the recovery process is important. A good foundation to manage fear includes making sure you are assertive in getting all of your questions answered (see Communicating with your Medical Team), taking good care of your health (see Returning to Exercise), and managing your stress (see Managing Stress). Fear and uncertainty can also improve when we focus on living in the present and doing what is meaningful and valuable in our lives.
Mindfulness and Living in the Present
Mindfulness has been defined as paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. Mindfulness is a way of focusing attention on our moment-to-moment experiences (thoughts, memories, emotions, sounds, body sensations) without trying to change them. Mindfulness is difficult because we all have a natural tendency to try to reject, suppress, or change certain negative experiences (e.g., pain, sadness, fear). But it can also be extremely valuable in teaching us to work with these emotions in a productive way. Mindfulness can also be relaxing because there is no goal, nothing to accomplish other than paying attention and letting yourself be exactly as you are.
Foundations of mindfulness practice include the following:
- an openness to learning called “beginner’s mind”
- patience with ourselves
- non-judgment of ourselves and our internal experiences
- acknowledgment and acceptance our internal experiences
- allowing our experiences to be as they are rather than trying to ignore, fix, or change them
Take a moment after this module to engage in some of the mindfulness exercises provided in the “Wellness Exercises” section of this app.
Values and Meaning in Life
SCAD survivors often report that living with this new diagnosis, along with the fear and uncertainty it may bring, renews their focus on what is meaningful and important in their lives. “Values” are morals and standards of being that are important to us in life. While outside influences can shape our values (e.g., culture, family, religion), each person is free to choose her own unique set of values and prioritize what is most important to her. Defining values allows a person to have a broad idea of what direction to take in life, and then acting in ways that are consistent with those values creates a greater sense of day-to-day meaning.
Values identification is the process of thoughtfully and heartfully choosing your values. Typically, this involves sorting through a list of values words such as “love,” “peace,” “family,” “fun,” “security,” etc. and choosing your top 3-5 words. You can complete the values cardsort exercise at the end of this module. You can also buy your own card deck at https://lifecompasscards.com. Once you have reflected on your values and beliefs, think about how your day-to-day behaviors can be more aligned with them.
Spirituality and Connection
Believing in something bigger than oneself can give us a greater sense of control and purpose when we feel hopeless or powerless. Even if traditional religious or spiritual practices are not part of our belief system, connecting with causes (e.g., volunteering or activism) can provide us with some of these same benefits.
Such beliefs and practices can provide the following:
- A framework to set priorities and place stresses in perspective
- Comfort in times of illness and crisis
- Opportunities for social contact and to develop supportive relationships
- Reasons to be of service and help to others
- Feeling connected to something larger than oneself
This exercise helps you see what values you associate with each of the different categories below.