We experience different types of emotions in our daily lives. But regardless of your age, stage of life, or circumstance, a cancer diagnosis can significantly affect your mental health. Living with this disease can bring with it an overwhelming shift in physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It also impacts the body in ways that are often difficult and even painful. Once you’re undergoing treatment, these emotions can make you feel more weak, fatigued, and nauseated.
Feelings of depression, fear, and anxiety are common responses to this life-altering experience. But even though it’s normal to have these feelings in such a situation, it doesn’t mean that we must pay less attention to them than the actual cancer treatment. Since this emotional weight can manifest itself into physical symptoms, steps to manage and cope are important.
In most cases, it’s not only the patients who are suffering. Loved ones and caregivers often have these feelings too. Living in fear that they will lose their loved one or being angry at themselves for not being able to do enough build up stress that can lead to depression as well.
Here’s how to spot the signs of depression and anxiety, and what to do when you see them in yourself or a loved one.
Putting On A Happy Face
People cope with emotional turmoil in different ways. Some might put up a false front and appear cheerful even when they don’t feel that way. This may be their way of trying to protect the people they love, and perhaps themselves, from painful feelings. Some even believe that this can improve their outcome – it simply isn’t true. Furthermore, trying to appear happy all the time and not allowing yourself to be vulnerable in front of your loved ones can have an even more negative effect on your mental health.
Research on coping mechanisms and survival or recurrence (the disease coming back after treatment) reveals that being positive has little to no effect on cancer. Still, some patients blame themselves for feeling fearful or sad, and may try to fight it by acting happy in front of people even when it pains them. It’s important for friends and family members to reassure their loved one that they will continue to care and support whether he or she is happy, sad, angry, or afraid.
The Importance of Social Support
Patients who report better quality of life tend to have more social support and feel less depressed and anxious. They found it to be encouraging when others are there to listen and help with the practical aspects of dealing with a deadly disease. Allowing support from loved ones and family members can help reduce the patient’s suffering and the distress of those who care about him or her.
Calling The Cancer Care Team For Emotional Concerns
It’s important to talk with the cancer care team about concerns such as, pain, fears, and other issues that may help the patient feel more comfortable. While going through a range of emotions is a part of dealing with cancer, some situations require immediate professional care. These are some of the issues a patient may experience that should not be ignored and need intervention right away:
- Is unable to sleep or eat
- Has plans or thoughts of suicide or self-inflicted injury
- Is confused
- Has emotions that interfere with daily tasks and last more than a few days
- Lacks interest in usual activities for many days
- Is sweating more than usual
- Has trouble breathing
- Extreme restlessness
- Has unusual symptoms
The cancer care team is there not only to take care of the patient’s physical health but also his or her mental wellbeing. Keep them involved and aware.
Cancer blurs the future that seemed so sure before. Any plans you may have had will have to work around your treatment. It’s normal to grieve over these changes. However, not being able to continue with your day-to-day life and having trouble carrying out small tasks may mean clinical depression. Unfortunately, one in four people with cancer is diagnosed with this.
Clinical depression impairs functioning, causes misery, and might even prevent the patient from following their treatment plan. Being agitated daily, extreme tiredness, feeling of worthlessness, and major weight gain or loss are just some of its common indicators.
The good news is that clinical depression can be treated. Medicines, counseling, and therapy can help the mind fight depression and improve the cancer patient’s quality of life. Here are other ways to uplift the spirits of someone who is suffering from depression:
- Engage in physical activity, especially mild exercise like walks
- Reach out to your family and friends
- Remember that it’s normal to grieve over the losses that the disease has brought to your life
- Realize that feelings of hopelessness is a symptom of depression and should get better with treatment
- With time and treatment, you can start to feel better
If you suspect depression in yourself or a loved one, see a doctor. Book an appointment to get the help and support you need.
Anxiety And Fear
There are many things in your entire cancer journey that can spark fear and anxiety. From doctor visits, test results, and new treatments, apprehension can overwhelm a patient. They may shake, tremble, worry excessively, and go on angry outbursts. These are all symptoms of anxiety and the first step to treating it is acknowledging that you feel uncomfortable and need help. Here are some of the things you can do:
- Get help through counseling and/or support groups
- Use meditation or any spiritual support that you think works for you
- Share your feelings
- Try relaxation exercises and deep breathing techniques
- Talk to a doctor about using anti-anxiety medication
Depression, anxiety, and fear can make it more difficult to cope with cancer. Some people avoid seeking help and talking about their emotional state because they don’t want to be a burden to others. If you are reading this as a loved one of a cancer patient, encourage them to talk about their feelings. And if you’re the one suffering from depression, know that your cancer care team is there to improve your overall wellbeing, both mental and physical. Finally, allow your loved ones to offer their support to you.