Stress Management During Cancer Treatments

We all know about the physical toll that having cancer, and undergoing cancer treatments can have on a patient. + But, what about the mental toll it can take?  There are a lot of emotions to process when you find out you have cancer and that does not change when you are undergoing treatment.  Not only is it emotional and exhausting, but it can be stressful as well.  From coordinating appointments and treatments to the mental and emotional strain it can be for both you and family and friends, the stress can quickly mount up and get overwhelming.  The National Cancer Institute describes just how stress can effect a patient during cancer treatment, “People who have cancer may find the physical, emotional, and social effects of the disease to be stressful. Those who attempt to manage their stress with risky behaviors such as smoking or drinking alcohol or who become more sedentary may have a poorer quality of life after cancer treatment. In contrast, people who are able to use effective coping strategies to deal with stress, such as relaxation and stress management techniques, have been shown to have lower levels of depression, anxiety, and symptoms related to the cancer and its treatment. However, there is no evidence that successful management of psychological stress improves cancer survival.  Evidence from experimental studies does suggest that psychological stress can affect a tumor’s ability to grow and spread. For example, some studies have shown that when mice bearing human tumors were kept confined or isolated from other mice—conditions that increase stress—their tumors were more likely to grow and spread (metastasize). In one set of experiments, tumors transplanted into the mammary fat pads of mice had much higher rates of spread to the lungs and lymph nodes if the mice were chronically stressed than if the mice were not stressed. Studies in mice and in human cancer cells grown in the laboratory have found that the stress hormone norepenephrine, part of the body’s fight-or-flight response system, may promote angiogenesis and metastasis.”  But, even when undergoing treatment to overcome cancer, by following some of the tips below, stress can be managed so that you are in optimal fighting shape to beat cancer.

  • Limit Your Schedule
    • Cancer treatments are demanding, tiring and can make you feel ill.  Reducing your schedule so that you do not feel overwhelmed will help limit your stress.  There is no reason to feel guilt about saying “no” to social events or other commitments during times of treatment because you may not particularly feel like going if you are feeling ill or run down.
  • Ask For or Accept Help
    • Many people will offer to help in various ways when they hear you are ill.  Even though it may feel awkward or uncomfortable, when someone asks if you need errands run or laundry done or your home cleaned, say “yes”!  People would not offer if they did not want to find some way to help and you need to save your energy for beating cancer.  If something comes up that you cannot handle, or have not had an offer for help recently, but you know a friend would be willing, ask for help.  Feel too ill to go to the grocery store?  Ask a friend to pick you up some groceries while they are going to the grocery store anyway.
  • Get Help With Financial Issues
    • Treating an illness and going to the doctor can be expensive.  When you have cancer, you may need surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or more.  It is a big financial burden to bear for anyone.  There are social workers in place to help cancer patients figure out their finances, navigating insurance and paying for their treatments.  You are not in this alone!
  • Exercise
    • If you have been cleared to exercise by your physician, it is incredibly important that you do so.  Physical activity will help you stay in better shape, keep your body activate and energized and is known for improving mood and eliminating stress.  Exercise is truly one of your biggest tools in the fight against stress during cancer treatment.
  • Do Things You Enjoy
    • While you may be saying “no” to more things these days, you should say “yes” to some things as well.  Say yes to things you truly enjoy because they will lighten the mood and help reduce the stress and monotony that can sometimes be experienced during cancer treatments.  Enjoy getting your nails done?  Do it!  Like to hike with friends on a nice day?  Great, get out there and hike!  Love to escape with a good movie?  Head over to the movie theater!
  • Join a Support Group
    • Sometimes, even when friends and family have the best of intentions, they just cannot understand what you are going through when you are undergoing cancer treatment.  Unless they have been through it themselves, they just cannot fully understand the range of emotional and physical stress you are dealing with.  A support group can alleviate a lot of stress because you can talk about your cancer related (and non-cancer related) issues with a group of people who truly do understand.  They may be able to offer helpful advice, guidance, a shoulder to cry on or more and this will drastically reduce your stress.

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