5 mins. read

Coping with anxiety after cancer

Coping with anxiety cancer Perci Health (1)

Key Takeaways

  • Anxiety is a natural response to life events: Many people feel anxious after having cancer. Uncertainty as to what being in remission means for your future, your health and your family, can all contribute to this.
  • Acknowledge that some moments will be harder than others: Feeling anxious when you have to attend monitoring appointments, for example, is common. Remind yourself that, just because you feel worried in a particular situation, does not mean you aren’t making progress.
  • Practice self-care: Mental health and physical health are fundamentally linked. Therefore, practising self-care, such as exercising regularly and getting good quality sleep, can make you feel more positive.

When cancer treatment ends, you may expect to feel relieved and celebratory. However, if you don’t feel like this, you aren’t alone.

Living beyond cancer takes some getting used to and many individuals find themselves experiencing anxiety. This can be because they worry cancer will return, they no longer have an immediate support network of doctors and nurses, or fear that people will perceive them differently.

This guide from Perci Health offers advice on how to manage feelings of anxiety and discusses ways to help you process your emotions.

Don’t bottle it up

Criticising yourself for how you feel and trying to push your emotions away will not help in the long run. Instead, you should allow yourself to recognise and process your feelings. It can be helpful to verbalise your anxiety by talking to others. Discuss your thoughts with friends and family at a time and in a place that feels comfortable for you. It may take time for others to understand how you feel, but suggesting things they can do to help and keeping communication open will be beneficial.

It can also be valuable to talk to others living beyond cancer who can relate to your experience. It will help you to feel less alone and provide reassurance that your feelings are normal and valid. If you don’t know anyone you can reach out to, there are online and in-person cancer support groups you can attend.

If you have returned, or are returning to work after cancer, having a conversation with your employer about your worries can help you acclimatise to being back at work. They may be able to offer flexibility in your job role or working hours, for example. 

Try meditation

Meditation can reduce stress and anxiety, and also help with other challenges, such as difficulty sleeping. This is because meditation can help clear a busy head but can also alleviate the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as heavy breathing, sweating, dizziness and a churning stomach.

You don’t need any special equipment to try meditation. However, it is best done in a quiet environment, free from distractions and where you can sit or lie comfortably. For some, this might be a bedroom. For others, it could be an outside setting such as an open park.

If you aren’t sure how to meditate, there are plenty of ways to learn and it doesn’t take long to pick up the techniques. Online tutorials for beginners are helpful. There are also apps, such as Calm and Headspace that have features including calming exercises, meditation background music and progress tracking. Of course, you can always attend a solo or group meditation session led by a teacher, too.

Yoga breathing exercises can also be particularly helpful in situations where you feel overwhelmed or feel your mind racing. You can also use them in any place and at any time, such as at home, in social settings, and in waiting rooms.

Practice self-care

It’s harder to cope with your feelings when you are not meeting your basic needs. This is because physical and mental wellbeing are intertwined. Focusing on yourself and prioritising self-care can contribute to a more positive outlook.

Make sure to stay hydrated and to nourish your body with nutrient-dense, satiating foods. Optimise your sleep environment and ensure that you are getting enough quality sleep. Allow time for rest when you need it but also ensure you regularly move your body in a way that feels good to you, such as walking, swimming or sport. Also, make time to do activities that you enjoy. This might be simply meeting up with a friend or spending a few hours on a hobby such as painting, baking or gardening.

Speak to a psychologist

If your anxiety after cancer is interfering with your relationships or work, or it is making it difficult to carry out day-to-day tasks, it’s a good idea to seek professional support.

A psychologist can give you tools to manage anxiety, such Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), or introduce you to thought-challenging techniques. They can also teach you how to cope with other strong emotions, such as survivor’s guilt and grief.

Psychotherapy is generally a collaborative process that occurs over several sessions and, in which, the psychologist and patient work together. The initial session is a chance for you to check you are comfortable with the therapist and that you feel they will give you the support you are looking for. It also provides an opportunity for the psychologist to get to know you, understand your situation and discuss the problems you are experiencing. During each subsequent session, you will explore your feelings further. The therapist is likely to ask you questions about your experiences and behaviours. They will then use their expertise to assist you.

If you think you’d benefit from talking to a psychologist or you are seeking other support types to help you manage and overcome post-cancer anxiety, Perci Health is here to help. We offer online sessions led by cancer specialists that consider the psychological, physical and practical impacts of cancer.