Self-care methods and metastatic breast cancer
Many of the best ways to reduce stress can be done on your own and help you feel more in control. With less stress, you may also feel less tension, fewer aches and pains, sleep better, and have more enjoyment with those you love.
Here are some strategies to try:
Getting answers to questions can help lessen stress and anxiety. 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. You may find it helpful to seek a second opinion about your treatment choices.
Online research, while helpful, can also be stressful. Limit the length of your sessions by searching for a specific topic rather than just browsing. If going online or reading books about cancer makes you tense, you can choose not to do it. If you still want the information these resources provide, ask a trusted relative or friend for help.
Many people gain helpful information by hearing or reading about the experiences of others with metastatic breast cancer. But do not assume that what you read on blogs and online forums is accurate. Comments are often personal opinions, and reading wrong information can cause unnecessary stress. Ask your doctor or nurse to verify what you read.
No matter how loving and supportive your friends and family are, talking to someone outside that circle can be helpful.
Joining a support group can help with stress and anxiety, though it isn’t for everyone. Some women enjoy these groups, while others aren’t interested or don’t find them helpful. You’ll find support groups at hospitals, cancer centers, in the community, or online.
When possible, pick a group run by a professional facilitator or moderator such as a social worker or counselor. This ensures that someone with training will help members deal with emotions that may arise. Also consider if the group is open to anyone who wants to drop in, or closed so that members must be screened to join.
While friends, family and self-care strategies can help you cope day-to-day, it can be helpful to talk about intense stress with a professional. This person should be someone who you don’t feel obliged to take care of emotionally. Even if you regularly attend a support group, there may be times when you might benefit from private sessions with a confidential, knowledgeable listener such as a psychological or spiritual counselor.
You’re not “failing to cope” if you seek counseling services. In fact, asking for help is a sign of strength. Private counseling gives you time and space to focus on your concerns. Many hospitals and cancer centers have social workers, psychologists and other trained counselors experienced in working with women with metastatic breast cancer.
Your doctor also may have recommendations on counselors in your community.
Seeing a professional can help reduce anxiety and stress and help you live each day more fully. Trained counselors can tell the difference between the sadness you feel from the life change of metastatic disease and true clinical depression.
Most people start with talk therapy, but if you have depression that affects your ability to function, you may need to take medicine for a while. Your oncologist can refer you to a specialist who understands which medicines can be taken with cancer treatments. Keep your oncologist informed about any new medications or supplements you add.
Social Media Communities
An easy way to connect with others is on social media. Social media allows you to connect with people all over the world and to share your breast cancer experience, ask questions, and get support from anywhere you have access to the internet. In online communities like these, you can share as much or as little as you want.
Social media communities can be broad, welcoming people with all kinds of cancer, or narrow, focusing on a certain type of breast cancer, an age group, or a stage of disease. For instance, if you are a young woman, you can join LBBC's Young Women's Initiative Facebook Group. You can find these groups by searching on social media sites like Facebook, or you could use Google to search for forums where you can talk.
Being physically active brings benefits, whether you go for a walk, take a dance class, or lift light weights. Movement strengthens your body, helps to banish tension, and lifts a heavy spirit. Exercise also lets you connect with others in ways that are unrelated to cancer.
People with metastatic breast cancer do all types of exercise, from easy workouts to competitive sports. Even if you have lymphedema, you can stay active. Check with your provider about which types of exercise interest you and find out if there’s any medical reason 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. By now you also know that not all your relatives or friends fit in this category. You may have found that your list of positive connections has grown to include new people since your diagnosis of metastatic disease.
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 appointments, or be your walking buddy. People may not know what you need, so be specific.
Talk with your good connections when you’re feeling stressed, but also let them know when you’d rather talk about ordinary things. Doing so can reassure you that you have a life apart from breast cancer. 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.
You may want to expand your circle to include women with a diagnosis similar to yours. Ask your doctors 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. You might 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.
You can learn to ease the bodily tension that comes with stress. One method, deep breathing, is very effective and simple to do when you feel anxious. As you inhale, inflate your abdomen out if you are able to; hold for a few seconds. Then 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). Breathing techniques taught in yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practices also help reduce stress.
Mental imagery and creative visualization help some women to 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.
Massage therapy and other body work may also help you 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 OK.
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 an 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 affected by 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. Some women write in private journals or public, online blogs. Your writing can be a legacy if you want it to be, telling others what you want them to know either now or later.
You can also lower stress by enjoying concerts, theater, and museums. Even listening to music or watching a good movie at home can relax you.
Spending time with pets can calm you by providing routine, diversion, exercise, and physical comfort. Keeping your bonds with the pets you love is important. If you’re not feeling well and need help with feeding or walking your pet, ask friends to help.
- Whenever needed, 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 the 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.
- Try not to compare yourself and your condition to anyone else, even someone with the same type of metastatic breast cancer.