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Coping With the Emotional Side of Cancer

When you’re going through cancer treatment, you may experience more than just physical symptoms. Cancer can also take a toll on your emotions and mental health.

You could feel sad, overwhelmed, or fearful about not knowing what lies ahead. You may have anxiety about doctor appointments, your scans, or waiting for test results. You also may worry about your ability to keep working during cancer treatment. These are all common reactions, and it is important to know that there are no “right” or “wrong” emotions to feel during your experience with cancer and treatment.

Recognizing these feelings, knowing when to ask for support, and finding ways to manage your emotional health are important for giving your body the best chance at fighting cancer.

How your emotions and mental health can affect your body

Your treatment is more than just medicine and your treatment schedule. Managing your emotions is also important for allowing you to focus on treating your condition and dealing with the physical side effects.

Feeling stressed all of the time can be hard on your body. This can cause other health problems, make it harder for you to stay on treatment, and/or lead to unhealthy behaviors.

Learn About the Emotional Effects of Cancer
Learn About the Emotional Effects of Cancer

Stress and anxiety

People talk about stress in everyday life, but living with cancer can be one of the most stressful experiences to manage. It is not just coping with or treating your cancer that’s challenging and stressful—other aspects of your life, such as family, work, and finances, can add to your worry.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety

At different times during your treatment or recovery, you may feel anxious or fearful. There are many reasons for these feelings, so it is important to recognize the symptoms.

  • Trouble solving problems and concentrating
  • Tense muscles
  • Dry mouth
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Irritability or anger
  • Uncontrolled worry

Managing stress and anxiety

If you’re having these feelings, it is important to try to manage them to give your body a better chance of healing. Some techniques that may help include:

  • Sharing any feelings and fears that you are having with your family, friends, or a therapist
  • Reaching out to a counselor or support group for help
  • Using meditation or prayer
  • Practicing deep breathing and relaxation exercises
  • Keeping a positive outlook; using your energy to focus on wellness

Depression

It is normal for many people living with cancer to experience some degree of depression. Understanding some common and serious symptoms of depression, ways to help manage them, and the importance of reaching out for support, can help your body have a better chance at fighting disease.

Know the signs of depression

  • Ongoing sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that are normally enjoyable for you
  • Having trouble sleeping, such as not being able to fall asleep or waking up too early, or feeling extremely tired
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Thoughts of suicide or wanting to harm yourself. If you experience any thoughts like these, contact your health care team immediately
  • You're Not Alone
    You're not alone.

    If you’re feeling suicidal, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or use their online chat. The Lifeline provides free and confidential support 24/7.

Ways to help manage depression

  • Consider talking to a counselor. This can help you develop coping and problem-solving skills. If your health care team thinks it would help or is needed, they may also prescribe medicine
  • Share your feelings with friends and family. If you are not ready to talk to them, consider joining a support group
  • Try writing down your feelings if you are not ready to talk to others about them
  • Talk with your health care team about whether taking an anti-anxiety or antidepressant medicine might be helpful for you

Understanding and managing your emotions can make a difference

Even if you are not currently experiencing emotional issues related to your treatment, it might be a good idea to keep this list to read or refer to later. If you start to feel changes in your emotions at a later point, it may be helpful to have this information handy.

If you have any questions or concerns, share them with your health care team. If you are experiencing serious emotional challenges, it is important to seek help immediately.