Managing Stress as a Cancer Patient and Survivor - NFCR

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Has cancer affected your life and left you feeling not quite yourself? You’re not alone. Research shows that anxiety and distress are more common in people affected by cancer than in their healthy peers with no history of cancer.

Cancer patients and survivors often have fears related to their health, such as recurrence or pending treatment. But the sources of stress and anxiety don’t stop there. Cancer can ignite concerns about family, finances, changes in body image and sexuality, and the challenges of managing their long-term health needs.

The Impact of Stress

Though these fears are common and rational, they cause significant stress for patients and survivors. This stress, in turn, can have adverse effects on physical health. Stress can deteriorate mental health and influence the uptake of unhealthy behaviors. Studies have found that people who experience chronic stress are often likely to show signs of depression, anxiety, overeating or undereating, and sedentary lifestyles. Chronic stress can even cause physical ailments, such as headaches, insomnia, and fatigue. As if that isn’t bad enough, recent findings also suggest that stress can aid in spreading cancer.

How to Manage Stress

While there is no proven way for cancer patients and survivors to eliminate stress completely, there are ways in which stress can be reduced and managed. National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) has compiled some of the best mechanisms to manage stress. However, it is essential to note that every person is different and has unique needs. Some people may find that they can manage these feelings independently, while others benefit from professional help. If you feel your reactions to stress are extreme or worrisome, seek professional support immediately.

1. Dietary choices

Diet can play a significant role in stress. Some foods are beneficial to stress management, such as mushrooms. Other consumables, such as alcohol, nicotine, and even caffeine, can cause anxiety and sleeplessness, which contribute to the body’s stress response. 

2. Group exercise

Researchers believe that exercising together can improve the mental well-being of cancer patients and their partners. Cancer affects each partner’s physical and mental health and often strains the relationship. Exercising together can improve relationships while releasing endorphins, the ‘feel good’ hormones. Regular exercise also aids in lowering the body’s stress hormone over time. 

3. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy 

Fear of recurrence is common among survivors, but there is a unique Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that can help overcome this fear. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy supports survivors in figuring out what they can change, yet recognizing the parts of their experience they can’t change. This process helps individuals take specific actions consistent with their values.

4. Meditation 

Stress often tricks the brain into feeling overwhelmed and out of time. Luckily, clearing the mind and taking some deep breaths requires only a couple of minutes and can be done from anywhere. Practicing meditation at the start of the day, in the shower, at lunch, or before bed can vastly relieve stress.

5. Connecting with others

Fear of the unknown often weighs heavily on the mind. Sometimes, not knowing what will happen next causes significant stress and anxiety. Many patients find that speaking with someone who has gone through a similar diagnosis can be incredibly comforting. For those who do not know someone who has a similar experience, podcasts or blogs can help build connections and overcome fear. NFCR launched a project, Faces & Voices of Cancer, for just this purpose. This project welcomes new stories and has a rich database of accounts from across the globe. Find Stories here. 

Managing stress is a key component of maintaining one’s health and even more essential for those directly affected by cancer. NFCR hopes these tips will help you improve you’re well-being and live healthily. Do you have other tips for managing stress? Leave a comment or tag us on social media!