Helping Yourself Emotionally
Finding ways to support your emotional health is just as important as getting the right cancer treatment. There are many ways to improve your mood and emotional well-being.
You can strengthen and care for your emotional health with these actions:
- Nurture yourself.
- Be patient with yourself and your emotions.
- Make time for yourself.
- Establish boundaries. Let loved ones and friends know when you need quiet time alone or want to socialize.
- Set limits with coworkers, or talk about how your work style may need to change.
- Pick a day or night to relax, and do something unrelated to cancer.
- Slowly resume your normal schedule, if things have changed. Set realistic goals.
- Don’t pressure yourself to always have a “positive attitude.” It’s normal to have a range of responses to a cancer diagnosis.
- Reflect on what you’re feeling and what’s important.
- Set aside time to think or write about what’s happening now, and what you see for your future.
- Keep a journal or blog, or find a supportive online message board.
- Read about others with breast cancer, or talk with others who share your experience. Sometimes knowing you are not alone can make a difference in how you see things.
- Help your physical health.
- Get enough sleep. Treatment may disturb your normal sleep pattern. You may need to rest during the day to keep your energy.
- Exercise to help you maintain a healthy weight, strengthen bones and decrease anxiety and depression. It can also improve sleep and concentration.
- Learn ways to quiet your body and mind. Talk with your provider about complementary therapies, such as yoga and meditation.
- Eat nutritious foods. Avoid too much caffeine, as it may increase anxiety and interfere with sleep.
Talking or connecting with others can provide emotional benefits.
Support groups bring together people with shared experiences to provide information, support and community.
- Groups may be open to anyone who wants to attend, or closed, with the same people at every meeting.
- Participants run some groups. Other groups have a trained facilitator, usually a mental health professional.
- Breast cancer support groups may be for
- General cancer support groups include people with other cancers.
- Some groups meet online.
Support groups aren’t for everyone. But for many people, support groups provide a focused way to talk about emotions.
Nonprofit and other groups. Once you start talking about breast cancer, you’re likely to find affected people in many places. Friendships started at work, through clubs or in your religious community can feel strong and supportive.
You may also connect with others through nonprofit groups like Living Beyond Breast Cancer. We offer programs where you can meet others coping with breast cancer.
Our Breast Cancer Helpline connects you with peers who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. We can match you with someone with the same diagnosis or who shares your age or ethnic background.
These activities can help lift your mood and create calm.
Exercise. Research shows that even a small amount of exercise can have positive, lasting effects on mood.
- Walking is popular, costs nothing and you can do it anywhere.
- Make it a time for yourself or walk with a friend or pet.
- Start by walking around the block, then slowly increase distance.
- Being outdoors may help you feel better.
- Swimming helps relax you. It also strengthens muscles and the heart.
- Try dancing, working out at a gym or taking exercise classes.
- Many hospitals and cancer centers offer yoga, tai chi and qi gong sessions.
- These practices help ease tension, improve mood and strengthen your body.
Mindfulness meditation. This focuses attention on the present to untangle you from the stresses of treatment and to help you find calm.
- The goal is to be aware of your thoughts and feelings in the present, without passing judgment.
- Includes sitting and walking meditations, mindful eating and loving-kindness meditation.
- Regular practice lowers anxiety and helps you respond to yourself with compassion and greater self-acceptance.
- Once you learn to meditate, you can practice anywhere, even at the clinic where you receive treatment.
Guided imagery. This practice shifts your mood by connecting the body to relaxing images in your mind.
- Close your eyes and think of a place that makes you feel calm and safe.
- Imagine being there, listening to calming sounds, breathing in the scent around you, seeing and touching the objects there.
- You can practice on your own, with a guide, or with the aid of soothing music or audio.
- Guided imagery helps control feelings of panic and fear, reduces stress and anxiety, and improves overall mental health.
Writing and creative arts. Expressing your feelings through art may help you process emotions in a new way. You might enjoy writing in a journal, taking photos, scrapbooking, painting, drawing or needlework.
Spiritual support. During times of stress, many of us turn to spiritual practices for comfort. Pastoral leaders or counselors are trained to help us cope with life’s difficulties.
Consider what is available through your church, synagogue or other place of worship. Feeling connected to your community can be very supportive. Or, more private spiritual practices may be helpful to you.
Your emotional health is an important part of your overall cancer treatment, but your doctor may not bring it up. Still, sharing your emotions with your providers can help them sort out whether treatments are contributing to what you’re feeling.
Talking to Your Care Team
If you want to talk with your care team but aren’t sure how to start, try saying:
- “I wish I knew another woman with breast cancer. Do you know how I could find someone?” or,
- “I notice lately that I feel sadder than usual. Do you think that could be related to treatment?”
Many members of your team, such as your nurse or social worker, might ask you how you’re doing. If you feel uncomfortable, let them know. Be as specific as possible. Let them know if you noticed a change in your mood after starting a treatment, or if you feel anxious about a side effect.
After you talk, your provider might offer referrals, whether to a support group, nonprofit organizations like Living Beyond Breast Cancer or a mental health professional. Your hospital might have social workers, psychologists or psychiatrists on staff who can help you.
Support GroupsSupport groups bring together people with shared experiences to provide information, support and community. These groups can be open to anyone who wants to attend, or closed, meaning the same people gather for every meeting. Some groups are run by the women seeking support. Others have a trained facilitator, usually a mental health professional.
Many places offer support groups just for women with breast cancer. Some groups allow women with all stages and types of breast cancer to participate. Others are intended for women with early-stage breast cancer or young women with breast cancer. In smaller communities, support groups may include people with other cancers.
With so many choices, consider what’s important to you:
- Do you prefer to speak only with women who have early-stage disease?
- Would it help to meet others your age?
- Are you more comfortable with a professional facilitator in the room?
Support groups aren’t for everyone. But for women who use them, support groups provide a focused way to talk about emotions. Sometimes women build friendships that remain for many, many years beyond treatment — and even beyond the life of the group.
Nonprofit and Other GroupsOnce you start talking about breast cancer, you’re likely to find affected women everywhere, even places you might not expect, like at work or in your religious community.
You may also connect with other women through nonprofit groups like Living Beyond Breast Cancer. We offer programs where you can meet others coping with breast cancer. Our Breast Cancer Helpline connects you with peers who have had breast cancer or are living with metastatic disease. We can match you with someone with the same diagnosis or who shares your age or ethnic background.