Depression and Anxiety and MBC
While living with metastatic breast cancer, you may feel anxious, depressed, or both. Some research suggests that people in long-term treatment may be more likely to feel depressed or anxious. These side effects can come from stress about the diagnosis, worry about your loved ones, uncertainty about the future and other concerns. Depression and anxiety may resurface when you need to change to a different treatment or you experience other changes in your life.
Anxiety and depression also may develop as side effects of breast cancer treatment itself. Some medicines may cause
- depression and anxiety as side effects
- pain, fatigue or changes in appetite, which can lead to depression and anxiety
Because lengthy emotional stress can result in depression and anxiety, either may appear any time after your metastatic diagnosis. Depression and anxiety can occur together, or separately. Differences in when or how depression and anxiety occur may depend on whether the symptoms are caused by physical or emotional issues, and on your personal experiences, past or present.
It’s normal to feel nervous and worried after you learn you have metastatic disease, or when you need to make a treatment change. If intense anxiety affects your day-to-day life, or you feel very sad and disinterested in things you used to enjoy, ask your healthcare team for help, just as you would for any other side effect.
If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, know that you are not alone. Many people feel the way you do, and there are a few different ways you can manage these feelings with the help of a professional or on your own.
Here are some tips:
- Review your medicines with your doctor
- If a breast cancer medicine is causing you to feel depressed or anxious, your doctors may switch you to another medicine to help you feel better. Make sure they know all the medicines you’re taking, including those not for cancer and any vitamins and supplements. Some of these could also be the problem.
- Consider taking antidepressants or antianxiety medicines
- Prescription medicines exist to help anyone feeling depressed or anxious feel more like themselves. Talk with your provider about which might help you. If you’re on tamoxifen, you may not be able to take certain ones, so be sure to ask which are safe to use.
- Your providers might ask you to see a therapist or counselor before giving you an antidepressant or antianxiety medicine. These professionals can help you learn nonmedical skills to cope with depression and anxiety. Or, they might suggest you see a psychiatrist, a mental health provider who can prescribe a medicine for you.
- Be sure to see a psychiatrist who has experience working with people with cancer.
- Try complementary therapies
- Some mind-body practices can lower stress and anxiety. Yoga, guided imagery, meditation and deep breathing may help.
- Exercise causes the brain to release chemicals that lift the mood. And, any activity, like walking, biking or gardening, may shift your thoughts away from cancer and give you the chance to be social.
- Music, art and writing can help you creatively express your emotions.
- Work on your daily lifestyle
- Getting more and better sleep makes almost anyone feel better. Set up a regular sleep schedule to be better rested.
- Eat more vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains to round out your nutrition.
- Drink less caffeine, found in soda, coffee and tea, and take in less sugar and alcohol.
- See an oncology counselor
- Counselors trained in cancer-related concerns can help you cope with the stresses you feel
- They understand when sadness is due to the life change of metastatic breast cancer or when it is clinical depression
- Oncology counselors work in cancer centers, hospitals and communities
- Your doctor, oncology nurse or others on your healthcare team can help you find the support you deserve
Tell your healthcare team right away if you are feeling depressed or extremely anxious for more than a day or two. They can assess your condition and provide care, or refer you to a professional who can help.
Some people with metastatic disease delay asking for help. They think depression and anxiety come with the diagnosis and can’t be changed. Others feel like failures for needing help. Just because you have metastatic breast cancer does not mean you are expected to experience anxiety and depression. While you have many challenges ahead, it is still possible to feel good about the world around you. In fact, seeing a professional counselor or taking medicines prescribed to stabilize mood show you are strong and making choices to take control of your care and support your quality of life.
If you are feeling hopeless and helpless and think you are in danger of hurting yourself, we strongly encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. This hotline provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.