Living with Cancer: Emotional Health
If you’re feeling a wide range of emotions after receiving a cancer diagnosis, you’re definitely not alone. There are mental highs and lows that come alongside every aspect of your treatment, and so being prepared to manage your mental health is a key component to your well-being.
Here are some suggestions on how to not just live with cancer, but live with a positive outlook and in a good emotional state.
Especially at the beginning of your treatment, you will have lots of questions. This is very normal and something that we encourage. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your oncologist. In fact, you may even want to bring a family member or close friend with you during your first appointments to help you remember the questions that you want to ask.
Ask for help
This can be a difficult thing to do, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with reaching out for help from friends, family, and/or colleagues. If you need some help running errands or cooking meals, there are people who love and support you that want to help you. Encourage your family members to accept help as well; as those who are closest to you are paying attention to your needs, they may be minimizing their own.
You may find it helpful to make lists of your day-to-day routines, including household chores and work-related items, and then prioritize them or break them down into smaller steps. Especially during times when your treatment and care feel overwhelming, lists like these can help you maintain your mental balance and make your routine tasks feel achievable. (And if they don’t? Don’t be afraid to ask for help!)
Manage your stress level
While there will obviously be stressful moments during your treatment, it is best to try to reduce your stress level as much as possible. Each person has a different way of doing this, but here are some suggestions:
- Spend time outdoors. Taking a walk and enjoying nature (and some fresh air) can be an instant mood-lifter.
- Try meditation or yoga. Both of these have been proven to help people relax and recharge.
- Find brief moments in your day to practice mindfulness. The American Society of Clinical Oncology suggests that short pauses in your day while doing routine or mundane tasks can be ideal times for reflection and being mindful. While you’re washing your hands, waiting at a red light, or making the bed, take a deep breath and reflect.
Use healthy coping techniques
The American Cancer Society (http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/emotional-side-effects/coping-checklist-for-patients.html) recommends that you look for strengths in your coping strategies and build upon them. Healthy coping statements include:
- “I talk with others and share my concerns when I face a problem.”
- “Cancer has made me re-examine my life, but there are still people and activities I enjoy.”
- “I look for more information when problems come up or I get bad news.”
Unhealthy coping statements include:
- “I can’t help thinking I must have done something bad to deserve this.”
- “I think cancer is my fate. What’s the point of fighting it?”
If you find yourself thinking or feeling more like the unhealthy coping statements, do not be afraid to reach out to friends and loved ones or your medical care team for help, especially if you have these feelings daily for longer than two weeks.
Find support … and support others
We’ve already discussed the importance of finding a support group [link to previous post on support groups], but it can’t really be said enough how beneficial these groups can be to your mental well-being before, during, and after treatment. But, in addition to finding a group that is supportive for you, consider being a supportive ear for someone else. You may find that talking someone else through their own challenges is incredibly gratifying and helpful for your own mental state.
By practicing some of these techniques, you will be able to help maintain your emotional and mental health during your treatment. If you are struggling feeling stressed or depressed, do not hesitate to reach out to your care team for suggestions. We are here for you in every aspect of your cancer treatment.
- “6 Lifestyle Changes to Improve Your Cancer Care,” American Society of Clinical Oncology (http://www.cancer.net/blog/2018-09/6-lifestyle-changes-improve-your-cancer-care)
- “Cancer diagnosis: 11 tips for coping,” Mayo Clinic (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/in-depth/cancer-diagnosis/ART-20044544?p=1)
- “Coping Checklist for Patients,” American Cancer Society (http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/emotional-side-effects/coping-checklist-for-patients.html)
- “Managing Stress,” American Society of Clinical Oncology (http://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/managing-emotions/managing-stress)