Methods of self-care to deal with stress and anxiety
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. Many people say these tips help them reduce stress and feel more in control.
Get breast cancer information when you want it
Be direct with your healthcare team and loved ones about what you want to know, and what you don’t want to know. Consider a second opinion about your treatment choices.
“Dr. Google,” while helpful, can also stress people out. Limit your screen time by searching for a specific topic for a set period. If going online or reading books about cancer makes you tense, choose not to do it. When you want the information these resources provide, ask a trusted relative, a friend, or your providers 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. Ask, could this be my experience?
Safe places to talk
Even if you have loving and supportive friends and family, talking to someone outside your circle can be helpful. Our community benefits from these strategies.
Breast Cancer Support Groups
You’ll find support groups at 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.
A professional can help you manage intense stress or anxiety. Even if you attend a support group, many women benefit from private sessions with a confidential, knowledgeable listener such as a psychological or spiritual counselor.
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. Plus, you won’t feel obliged to care for your counselor emotionally.
Many hospitals and cancer centers have social workers, psychologists, and other trained counselors experienced in working with people with breast cancer. Mental health professionals can tell the difference between the sadness you 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 oncologist can refer you to a specialist who understands which medicines can be taken with breast cancer treatments.
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. Find other groups by searching Facebook or Google.
Movement strengthens your body, helps banish tension, and lifts a heavy spirit. Exercise also lets you connect with others in ways unrelated to cancer.
People with breast cancer do all types of exercise, from walking to dancing to lifting light weights. Check with your provider about which types of exercise interest you and find out any medical reasons to choose other activities instead.
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.
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.
Some people want to expand the circle to include those with a diagnosis of breast cancer. Ask your providers if they treat other women who would be willing to talk with you. The LBBC Helpline can connect you to such women, as can online and in-person support groups.
Many women draw strength from their religious or spiritual beliefs. Prayer and meditation can be powerful solutions to stress. 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 helps you sort through your thoughts.
Breathing techniques taught in yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practices help reduce stress. Deep breathing is effective and simple to do when you feel anxious:
- 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 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.
Since your diagnosis, you may find your thoughts circling around fears, negative predictions, and sadness. Mindfulness helps you step away from that downward spiral, away from distress. Many cancer centers offer stress management classes based on mindfulness, which may also be called mindfulness meditation or mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
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.
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 brings on the body’s relaxation response, can improve immune function, and help you cope.
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
- Take time to adjust and regroup. Rest or nap.
- Make choices that help your spirit. 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.