When a person is diagnosed with a debilitating or chronic illness like cancer, it can be a scary time that’s full of unknowns. This type of life change usually causes emotional distress alongside of the physical distress, and a person’s mental health may be negatively impacted.
Besides the physical toll that comes with tumor development and treatment, someone’s mental well-being is most likely impacted greatly with a cancer diagnosis. It’s common for cancer patients to experience feelings of depression, fear, shock, anger, or hopelessness, among other things. Not only that, but patients going through this level of mental/emotional stress may also begin to experience physical consequences, on top of what they’re already experiencing from the cancer. We now know from multiple studies over the years that there exists a correlation between mental and physical health – as the two are very much interconnected.
Let’s focus on depression for this article. It's probably not a surprise that cancer patients are highly likely to suffer from depression. This can eventually lead to trouble coping with the disease, as well as surviving the treatment options. Sometimes a person may keep these feelings to themselves, so it can be helpful to know what signs of depression look like.
Symptoms of depression vary in each person, and you might note that these symptoms can be caused by the cancer treatments as well.
Common symptoms of depression can include:
· Experiencing guilt or feeling worthless
· No interest or enjoyment in most activities
· Continuous sad, hopeless, or “empty” state
· Challenges with focusing, remembering things, or making decisions
· Not sleeping at all, or sleeping too much
If you or your loved one are suffering with these symptoms, it’s important to reach out for help. Nobody should have to go through cancer all alone! At the very least, you can reach out to a national hotline for mental health support, or cancer support hotline, (and here’s a list by type of cancer) but there may also be local resources available as well that your doctor will likely be able to direct you to.
Here are some tips a cancer patient could also try to help manage their mental health:
Be Mindful of What You Think
Negative thoughts and self-talk can have a crippling effect on a person’s health. When the body’s going through high levels of stress, the brain tries to identify and defend against it. The immune system will release chemicals that cause reactions like increased heart rate and blood pressure. That said, the body also responds to positive emotions and exercises. Meditation, gentle yoga, positive affirmations, and talk therapy can all have a strong impact on someone going through cancer treatment, and may even help improve their prognosis.
Get Outdoors & Around Animals At the very least, getting yourself outdoors in nature, even if for a short walk or a sit in a chair can do wonders for the mind and body. Sitting on the earth, if possible, or at least getting your bare feet on the earth (grass, dirt, doesn’t matter!) can be very healing for your body, mind and soul. (watch this free documentary about “Earthing”) Light gardening, if you have the energy for it, could be a lovely way to brighten your day. Interacting with pets or farm animals may also bring back some joy. Sitting near, or dipping your feet into a pod, lake, or the ocean may also be a great way to relieve some mental stress.
Be Mindful of What You Feed Yourself
Your body may not be able to tolerate a wide variety of foods during cancer treatment. Find what works for you and be mindful about the nutrition level as much as you can. Be careful with sugar and caffeine, as they can negatively affect your mood, as well as feed the cancer. Ginger tea can do wonders for nausea. Perhaps homemade smoothies that you can pack with nutrients can be better tolerated than whole foods. Try to eat as natural as possible to give your body the best “fuel” to heal itself.
Find a Creative Outlet to Express Your Feelings
Art (in any form), music, poetry, or any other form of creative expression can help keep your soul happy as well as assist you in processing and expressing your personal experience of cancer. You definitely do not want to stuff your feelings right now! Let your anger, despair, fear and any other emotion that we tend to repress find its way out of your body, even if its screaming in the car! Once we acknowledge what’s true for how we feel, it’s much easier to deal with the emotions, and people tend to feel lighter inside afterwards.
Try Talk Therapy
Mental Health Therapists can help cancer patients sort through their emotions, such as depression, grief, or anger, and teach healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with all that arises with life’s challenges. They can also help cancer patients discover meaning and find peace within themselves during these difficult times.
Use Resources Available Such As Supportive Community Groups
Finding a community of people in similar situations can be extremely beneficial to cancer patients. Attending support groups and being part of a structured gathering where people get together to talk and share their experiences, concerns, questions, and pain points about their cancer journey can be a turning point and an opportunity to be seen and heard on their cancer journey.
If you find yourself having difficulty managing the mental distress that can come with being diagnosed with cancer or other illness, you’re not alone. Talk to your doctor, reach out to loved ones, and try any of these tips in this article to find the support that works best for you. At the end of the day, it’s all about what brings you peace of mind as you battle the illness.