Mental Health & Cancer
Anxiety, fear and depression are commonly associated with life-changing events – especially cancer. People with cancer may find the physical, emotional and social side effects of the disease to be stressful. This stress may result from changes in body image, changes in family or work roles and physical symptoms due to treatment. Family members and caregivers often feel these same stressors, as they fear the loss of a loved one. They may feel angry because someone they love has cancer, frustrated that they “can’t do enough,” or stressed because they have to take on more at home. So many of these feelings are completely normal, but what is typical and when may outside help be needed?
According to The American Cancer Society, signs that the patient or a loved one may need help are the following:
- Suicidal thoughts (or thoughts of hurting himself or herself)
- Unable to eat or sleep
- Lacks interest in usual activities for many days
- Is unable to find pleasure in things they’ve enjoyed in the past
- Has emotions that interfere with daily activities and last more than a few days
- Is confused
- Has trouble breathing
- Is sweating more than usual
- Is very restless
- Has new or unusual symptoms that cause concern
If you or a loved one have experienced one or more of the above symptoms, there are many options for help.
Speak with your cancer team
If you find any of the above symptoms to be true, one of the first steps may be talking with your cancer team. Your team should be able to answer any questions, talk about your concerns, and, if needed, refer you to a mental health professional. Anxiety occasionally stems from the fear of uncertainty from treatment or medication side effects, so knowing what to expect may be the first step in coping.
Once you have spoken with your cancer team and support system to determine a treatment plan, put it into action! Any of the below activities may supplement the treatment prescribed by your doctor in making both you and your loved ones feel less alone and anxious during this difficult time:
- Training in relaxation, meditation, or stress management
- Counseling or talk therapy
- Cancer education sessions
- Social support in a group setting
- Online support groups
- Medications for depression or anxiety
Exercise has been proven to improve individuals’ quality of life and physical functionality. Though rest and relaxation are crucial to maintaining a healthy mind and body, regular exercise may help maintain and even improve your health. Exercise may help during treatment by improving balance and physical abilities, lowering the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease, and lessen nausea. Even more importantly than physical health, exercise may improve patients’ self-esteem, mental health and quality of life.
Every individuals’ physical needs and potential are different, so it is important to speak with your doctor about what exercises are best for you. Because the stage and treatment plan for cancer patients differ, so may each patients’ stamina and strength. Staying as active and fit as possible is essential to maintaining physical well-being during treatment, so tailoring an exercise program that fits your ability and preference is essential.