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About Breast Cancer>Emotional Health>Anxiety > Methods of self-care to deal with stress and anxiety

Methods of self-care to deal with stress and anxiety

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It’s common to feel stressed and anxious after a breast cancer diagnosis. Less stress often means less tension, fewer aches and pains, better sleep, and more enjoyment with those you love. On this page, we’ll share some ways to reduce stress and feel more in control.

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Get breast cancer information when you want it

Be direct with your healthcare team and loved ones about what you want to know. It’s also fine to tell them what you don’t want to know right now.

“Dr. Google,” while helpful, can also stress people out. Limit your screen time by searching for a specific topic for a set period instead of just browsing. If going online or reading books about cancer makes you tense, you can choose not to do it. When you want the information these resources provide, ask a trusted relative, a friend, or your care team for help. Always check what you find with your care team.

Many newly diagnosed people gain helpful information by hearing or reading about the experiences of others who have had breast cancer. But do not assume that what you read online is accurate or that your experiences will be exactly the same. People often share their personal opinions, and reading wrong information can cause unnecessary stress. Ask your doctor or nurse to verify what you’re reading. And if you are not sure about information or recommendations your team shares with you, consider getting a second opinion.

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Safe places to talk

Even if you have loving and supportive friends and family, talking to someone outside your circle can be helpful.

Breast cancer support groups

Joining a support group can help with stress and anxiety, though it isn’t for everyone. Some people enjoy these groups, while others aren’t interested or don’t find them helpful. Support groups are often available through hospitals, cancer centers, in the community, by phone, and online.

When possible, pick a group run by a professional facilitator such as a social worker or counselor. This ensures someone with training will help you deal with emotions and triggers. Also consider if the group is open to drop-ins or closed so members must be screened to join.

One-on-one counseling

A licensed mental health professional can help you manage intense stress or anxiety. Even if you attend a support group, you may find extra benefit from private sessions with a professional. Mental health professionals include licensed psychotherapists, social workers, counselors, or psychiatrists. Some people find support through spiritual counselors or clergy. Many hospitals and cancer centers have social workers, psychologists, and other trained counselors experienced in working with people with breast cancer.

Seeking counseling does not mean you’re failing to cope. Asking for help is a sign of strength. Private counseling gives you time and space to focus on your concerns. While support groups involve members giving and receiving support to each other, in one-on-one counseling, the focus is entirely on supporting you.

Seeing a professional can help reduce anxiety and stress and help you live each day more fully. Mental health professionals can also tell the difference between the sadness you may feel from the life change of a breast cancer diagnosis and clinical depression.

Most people start with talk therapy, but if depression or anxiety affect your ability to function or find pleasure in daily life, your doctor can recommend medicine to take for a while. Your care team can refer you to a specialist who understands which anxiety or depression medicines can be taken with breast cancer treatments.

Social media communities

Social media allows you to connect with people all over the world, ask questions, and get support from anywhere you have access to the internet. In online communities, you can share as much or as little as you want.

Some social media communities can be broad, welcoming people with all kinds of cancer, like our closed Facebook group Breast Cancer Support: All Stages, All Ages. Others are narrow, focusing on a certain type of breast cancer, an age group, or a stage of disease, like our Breast Cancer Support for Young Women Facebook Group. You can find more groups by searching on Facebook or Google.

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Other ways to take care of yourself

Below, we’ll share some of the other ways you can support yourself.

Good connections

You know who they are: the friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers who help you feel better and lower your stress. These are the people who are sincere when they ask, “How can I help?” Let them take on chores, keep you company at a doctor’s appointment, or be your walking buddy.

Not everyone in your life will fit this category. But you may also find that your list of positive connections has grown to include new people since diagnosis.

Talk with your good connections to release stress, but also let them know when you’d rather talk about something other than cancer. People may not know what you need, so be specific. Discussing emotions and feelings is important, with the right listener. That could be someone in your personal network, but you might prefer private talks with a professional counselor.

Some people want to expand their circle to include others who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. Ask your care team if they treat others who would be willing to talk with you. The LBBC Helpline can also connect you with a trained volunteer who has been treated for breast cancer, as can online and in-person support groups.

Exercise

Being physically active brings benefits, whether you go for a walk, take a dance class, or lift light weights. Movement strengthens your body, helps banish tension, and can lift your spirit. Exercise also lets you connect with others in ways unrelated to cancer.

People diagnosed with breast cancer do all types of exercise, from easy workouts to walking to dancing to competitive sports. Even if you have lymphedema, a potential side effect of surgery, you can stay active. Check with your care team about which types of exercise interest you and find out any medical reasons to choose other activities instead.

Spirituality

Many women draw strength from their religious or spiritual beliefs. Prayer and meditation can be powerful solutions to stress. You may choose to use them on your own or as part of a faith or spiritual community. Talking with a compassionate minister, priest, rabbi, or other clergy or with a pastoral care counselor can sustain you.

With a breast cancer diagnosis, some find themselves facing the subject of their own mortality for the first time. Spirituality can provide support for navigating these thoughts.

Relaxation techniques

Breathing techniques taught in yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practices help reduce stress. Deep breathing is effective and simple to do when you feel anxious. Here is a simple technique you can try:

  • As you inhale, inflate your abdomen if you are able
  • Hold for a few seconds
  • Exhale fully, using your abdominal muscles to push out all the breath (talk with your doctor first if you had surgery that affects these muscles)

Mental imagery and creative visualization help some women relax and feel more in control. Sit in a quiet place and think about a lovely spot, such as a beach at sunset, or a special place that makes you feel safe and comforted. Go to that place in your mind, feeling the breeze on your arms or sensations you have at that special place.

Try massage therapy and other body work to relax. Look for someone trained in working with people affected by cancer.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness helps you reconnect with the sources of strength, balance, and peace that practitioners of this technique believe are already within you. Through mindfulness skills, you learn to distance yourself from thoughts, emotions, and reactions that lead you to feel out of control. Instead, you refocus on simple moments in the present and discover that right now, in this moment, you are okay.

Many cancer centers offer stress management classes based on mindfulness, which may also be called mindfulness meditation or mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

Yoga

Yoga, with its routines of body poses and breathing, is both a physical and a mental technique. Cancer centers often offer yoga; you may also find classes at Ys, fitness centers, and private studios for people with breast cancer. If possible, begin with a class designed for women with breast cancer.

Creative arts

Expressing yourself through art can lift your spirits and release stress. Choose an art you love or want to try: singing, playing an instrument, making a video or film, dancing, acting, painting, or crafting. Write in private journals or on blogs.

Lower stress by enjoying concerts, theater, and museums. Even listening to music or watching a good movie at home can relax you.

Laughter

Laughter can bring on the body’s relaxation response, improve immune function, and help you cope.

Pets

Spending time with pets provides routine, diversion, exercise, and physical comfort. Keep your bonds with the pets you love. If you’re not feeling well and need help feeding or walking your pet, ask friends for support.

More self-care strategies

Here are some additional self-care strategies:

  • Take time to adjust and regroup. Rest or nap.
  • Make choices that help your spirit. For instance, you may need a walk in the park more than you need to get laundry done.
  • Maintain a good sleep schedule. Exercise and relaxation techniques can help with insomnia.
  • Take your medicine for pain or anxiety as prescribed. Using these as directed can help with quality of life.
  • Avoid comparing yourself and your condition to anyone else, even someone with the same type of breast cancer.

Learn more about where to find support.

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Living Beyond Breast Cancer is a national nonprofit organization that seeks to create a world that understands there is more than one way to have breast cancer. To fulfill its mission of providing trusted information and a community of support to those impacted by the disease, Living Beyond Breast Cancer offers on-demand emotional, practical, and evidence-based content. For over 30 years, the organization has remained committed to creating a culture of acceptance — where sharing the diversity of the lived experience of breast cancer fosters self-advocacy and hope. For more information, learn more about our programs and services.