Tips for Managing Stress with Cancer and Long-term Illness 

 Summary: One of the most stressful times of your life will be during your battle with cancer. Many facets of life will arise that typically do not show, forcing you to deal with things you may rather not. When stress creeps into your life, you must take a stand for your own mental, physical and emotional health, and do something to keep yourself on a positive path moving forward. This positivity will help your treatment move along smoother, while giving you a clear headspace to fight the hard battle against cancer. 

 

Cancer not only interrupts your life but also brings a large side order of stress, regardless of if you have ordered it willingly, or not. Stress is how your body responds to threats, triggers, demands or changes. These stressors that can hinder the cancer patient’s life are adjustments to diagnosis and treatment, managing finances, relationships, and coping with the steady line of side effects that come from the treatment, uncertainty and random life stressors. While some stress can be healthy in life, constant chronic stress can lead to severe health problems over time like anxiety, depression, inflammation, disease, mental issues, obesity issues and much more. 

While stress can highly hinder your daily life, there are various evidence-based ways to cope and lower your own high stress levels. The top two ways of coping with stress are: emotion focused coping and problem-focused coping. Emotion focused coping helps to reduce the emotional response you may be having with your stress-causing aspect in life. Problem focused coping focuses on the cause of the direct stress in obvious and practical ways, thusly reducing your stress levels. Most often emotional focused coping should be used for those situations that are out of your hands and control. Problem focused coping can be used for situations in your life that you can control and handle.  

Ask yourself this question when every problem arises: is this problem within my control? If your answer is yes, focus on the emotional mechanisms. If no, focus on the problem.  

Whether you have an upcoming CT scan or are expecting news from your doctor, waiting can cause anxiety, worry and stress. You might have trouble sleeping or feel impatient with your life and your loved ones. While this can be frustrating, all of this is completely normal. Many cancer patients have deemed the term, “scan-xiety” as the defining term for this condition. Thankfully, this feeling should not last forever, and there are many way you can help to relax yourself and ease any scan-xiety you may be feeling. 
 

  • Pray or find your spiritual connection. Many of our patients and caregivers said they found comfort in prayer and connecting with what they found to be spiritualThis feeling of a loss of control can make people feel like they have lost part of themselves. Praying allows them to do what they can and then let go of those anxious feelings, giving it to God. Many of our patients report that their spiritual connections with nature and the outdoors also grew, and many spend the most time finding solace in fresh air and blue skies.  
  • Trust in your care team. Know that your doctors and the rest of your care team will take care of everything. That’s their job. When you are nervous or do not understand your plan or treatment, make time to ask them and speak with them about your concerns.  
  • Listen to your favorite music during your treatment and medical appointment waiting time. Whether you are in the waiting room, in your car or at home or work, music can help you escape from the realities of cancer or find the strength and determination to face them head-on. By listening to your favorite songs, with those deep messages that resonate with you, you will find a lower heart rate and calmer mind.  
  • Find humor in everything you can! Nothing eases tension like laughter and finding the smiles and rainbows in each and every day. Even in those moments when you would rather scream or cry, try to force yourself to smile at the irony of the situation.  
  • Keep busy doing something you enjoy. Whether it is shopping, spending time with friends or dining out at a favorite restaurant, having a little fun will help keep your mind off the upcoming appointment, treatment, or uncomfortable situation. Many people resume hobbies or passions that they have pushed aside over the years and find that this sort of mental distraction helps keep them calm. Others pick up a new hobby and learn something entirely new! 
  • Exercise when you can. Not only can exercise help you stay healthy and strong, it produces mood-boosting endorphins that may help chase away your worries. Be sure to talk with your doctor before starting any new exercises, and make sure you choose the exercise that is right for you.  
  • Relax whenever you can. There are many beneficial therapies for cancer patients and those patients who are dealing with long-term illness to partake in. Massage therapy, intimate therapy, classes that bring like groups and patients together, and many more things. Others find that self-centered meditation is just what they need, or they find that joining a Yoga class not only helps their mind, but also their bodies.  
  • Meditate. Practicing mindfulness and meditating can help you stay calm during the tough times. Through meditation, you can learn to relax, manage stress and develop a deeper awareness of your body, emotions and surroundings. Not only can it help you get through this next appointment, it can help improve sleep, memory and cognitive function. Many also pair meditation with Yoga and deep body stretching which then provides a health boost in the physical department as well.  
  • Stay positive and focus on the happiness and good in your life. Focus on positive thoughts, positive mental images and a positive outcome from your appointment. This can be a hard goal for many, as cancer and long-term illness have a way of only showing you the negative, they can offer. Consider the good things that you are learning from your medical and health battles. You know that taking life slowly can help to see all the good, and smaller things that may be missed. You know the importance of deep, connected and true relationships and what it takes to maintain them. You may have personally learned that small deeds are sometimes the best, and you may be able to grace others with happiness as those who have helped you in your times of need. 
  • Help another patient in some way that you can. Waiting rooms are amazing places to meet like-minded and like-diseased patients and possibly new friends. These are the places you will learn about the best local support groups and the newest ways and therapies to learn to cope. By offering up your story alone, you may be helping someone down the line learn, know what to expect, and understand that they are not alone.  

All of these things can help you to lower and manage your stress levels while dealing with cancer and other life-long illness. Do you have a special way you choose to deal with stress? Write in and let us know! We can add your suggestion to our growing list of ideas!  

 

Resources Used: 

ACS 

NIH 

Reclaiming Intimacy

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