Cancer and Mental HealthOn January 16, 2023 by Lavina Kang
Every day, thousands of people are diagnosed with cancer. While almost everyone knows (or will know) someone with a cancer diagnosis, there is no manual that teaches people how to deal with the mental and emotional burden of this diagnosis.
Although the cancer experience is different for everyone, it is important for people to know that regardless of the number or intensity of emotions, they are all valid and important.
Here’s what you need to know about coping with a cancer diagnosis:
It is normal to have an emotional roller coaster due to a cancer diagnosis, but you don’t have to tolerate depression.
Depression can creep up almost unnoticed, and often under the best of circumstances, so life events that are stressful or traumatic, such as a cancer diagnosis, can trigger depression in anyone. Dr. Shawna Ehlers, an expert in psychology and psycho-oncology at Mayo Clinic, points out that “it’s completely normal to be stressed, anxious, or sad.”
Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, and anxiety are common in people living with cancer, but these feelings often dissipate. When this doesn’t happen, talk to a healthcare professional and seek support. “This is a normal part of cancer, even expected, and can be treated; in other words, it’s not something you have to settle for and suffer alone,” Dr. Ehlers points out.
If you are unaware of the signs and symptoms of depression, it is important to mention any troubling thoughts, feelings, or behaviors to your healthcare professional.
Depression presents differently in everyone, and it’s not always easy to recognize, but the sooner it is addressed and treatment is initiated, the sooner you can focus your energy on recovery and healing.
Understand the impact stress can have on cancer and its effect on recurrence and recovery.
Stress can wreak havoc on your body in a number of ways. The body’s natural stress response, which serves to protect against perceived threats, can stay “on,” when it shouldn’t be. This can occur for many reasons, including traumatic life events and other stressors.
Activation of the stress response system and long-term overexposure to stress hormones can alter nearly every process in the body, and some research suggests that there may be a connection between stress hormones and both cancer progression and recurrence. Visit Health well being if you need more information or have any questions about mental health.
Cancer researchers are also exploring how stress and stress-related behaviors, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and overeating, among others, may contribute to an increased risk of cancer.
Dr. Ehlers points out that stress can also influence recovery, but there are ways to manage it with the help of your doctor.
“Stress has been associated with cancer progression once a person receives a diagnosis. This is why stress management is really important. This doesn’t mean that you have to avoid stress at all costs. What it does mean is that you have to make sure you have some downtime where your physiology can calm down,” he notes.
In addition to working with a mental health professional, Dr. Ehlers adds that balance and acceptance are key to managing stress. “It’s important to separate factors that can be controlled from those that are not possible to control. When people receive a cancer diagnosis, they may feel shocked, lost, and overwhelmed, as if their whole life is out of control. However, after they have time to think, they realize that there are things they can control; they realize that it is their life and their story, and they can share it with whomever they want because they are in control of their narrative,” she adds.