Schedule a small amount of time each day for something that brings you joy, whether it’s doing the crossword puzzle in the newspaper in the morning or taking a warm bath before bed.
Emotions and mental states related to cancer are different for each person, and they can come and go. But if you experience any concerning thoughts, feelings, or behaviors lasting for more than two weeks, talk with your healthcare team. Things to look for can include, but are not limited to:
- Having repeated anxious, frightening or unwanted thoughts (if these include suicide or self-harm; NAMI is a top resource)
- Feeling easily distracted or difficulty focusing
- Having trouble sleeping
- Feeling detached from yourself or reality
- Having strong feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or shame
- Having continuous feelings of fear or anger
- Experiencing a loss of interest in activities and relationships that used to be enjoyable
- Experiencing changes in appetite
- Engaging in self-destructive behavior, such as drug or alcohol abuse
- Having difficulty feeling emotions
One in three people
with cancer experience mental or emotional distress, and researchers have found
that patients dealing with cancer may have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, from diagnosis through treatment, after treatment is complete, or during possible recurrence of the cancer.
Don’t stay silent! Letting someone know how you are feeling is not a weakness. Neither is asking for help. Talking about how you feel is far more likely to have a positive outcome than a negative one. Your healthcare team is well-versed in the range of reactions people have when dealing with cancer and there will be zero judgement. Moreover, it’s also important to tell your doctor or nurse about how you are feeling, as certain cancer treatments are known to have mental and emotional side effects. Feeling better may be as simple as adjusting your treatment plan.
There are many other resources available to help you maintain your mental health in the face of cancer. Contact your oncology social worker, community mental health agency, or your workplace employee assistance program for a list of local mental health professionals. These specialists can help you learn to manage intense emotions with effective coping strategies.
Mindfulness, meditation, therapy, and support groups have all been found to reduce depression, anxiety, and stress related to a cancer diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, and studies suggest
those who include mental health as part of their cancer treatment plan may live longer than those who don’t participate in such programs.
Cancer doesn’t have to be
the end of your happiness. When you take the time and care to invest in your mental health, you are not just treating your cancer, but yourself as a whole person.