9 tips to reduce your stress and anxiety when you have metastatic breast cancer
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, you may be experiencing strong emotions like anxiety, anger, or sadness. The pressures of your normal life didn’t disappear because you have cancer, and, if anything, they are more complicated now. Given these circumstances, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed.
It’s important for your overall well-being that you find ways to reduce stress and anxiety. To help you cope and navigate a path forward with a greater sense of control and meaning, below are some tips from the women featured in LBBC’s new Telling stories, making meaning metastatic breast cancer video series.
1. Remove “toxicity” from your life.
Don’t waste your energy on whatever — or whomever —causes you stress. Surround yourself with people who understand you and make you feel good.
Jamil doesn’t have time for toxic people in her life. She heartily believes that when you’re living with metastatic breast cancer, “It's important to find those things that bring you joy because cancer is very clarifying. It's like I don't have time for any negativity. I don't have any time for any toxicity.”
2. Prioritize self-care and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Patricia follows a healthy lifestyle and loves to exercise. She also finds complementary therapies helpful and regularly practices Reiki, meditation, and ho'oponopono recitations based on an ancient Hawaiian spiritual practice. Patricia says, “Self-care is very important in everything: in the food that you eat, in what you drink, and anything you do. You have to be careful, though, with your body. You have to understand what you can do and what you can't do. I talk with my oncologist and ask her if I can do something or not, even with exercise. I get guidance on all that.”
3. Write it out.
Express your thoughts and feelings in a notebook, computer journal, or on a blog. Keep it private or send it to people who want to know how you’re doing so you don’t have to say the same things over and over again.
Myra writes about her cancer experience on her blog, Green Chemo Ninjas. She finds it therapeutic when she shares her story with other women. “Sharing my story helps me to heal and to process everything,” Myra says, “And it also makes me feel grateful, you know? So, I feel like I'm blessed every time I share my story. Because I have people that come to me and tell me, ‘Thank you for being so honest.’”
4. Escape the “cancer, cancer, cancer” spiral.
You may not feel up to it when you’re newly diagnosed, but when you can, find healthy spaces for the other parts of your identity to breathe. Try something you’ve always wanted to learn. Take an arts-and-crafts or adult education class to absorb yourself in something unrelated to breast cancer. Make plans.
Liz loves to travel. “I want to say one of the best pieces of advice that another woman [who had metastatic breast cancer] gave to me was to keep making plans. I love to travel. I have to have a trip planned, and when I was diagnosed metastatic, I had zero motivation to book anything, because I just kept thinking, what if I don't make it to that day? And she was like, ‘No, keep making plans, live like there is no end and when we get there, we get there.’ And that was huge to me because I needed something to look forward to, otherwise I was going to get stuck in just cancer, cancer, cancer.”
5. Keep a schedule.
Maintain your normal activities, as much as possible, or adjust according to your needs and abilities.
Susan has worked a very demanding job throughout her treatment. Early on, she had intense chemotherapy, and she would get very tired. She would ask herself, ‘Do I want to complete this task and not have it hanging over me? Or do I want to go home and rest?’ She decided matters on a case-by-case basis. Now Susan has a different treatment, and on the days she goes, she tries not to schedule anything else. After her treatment, she goes home and rests. If she must, she'll work a little, but, as she says, “I really take time to step back and not do anything on those days. And I also have a rule now that once a week I have an offline day. I have a no business day. And that helps a lot with my sanity. I probably would need that even if I didn't have metastatic breast cancer.”
6. Spend time with animals.
Keeping company with animals has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, and may have other health benefits, but you don’t need to commit to a pet if you don’t have one already. You can visit a zoo or an animal sanctuary or watch some kitten videos on YouTube – yes, even screentime enjoyment of animals being their adorable selves has been shown to reduce stress.
“My greatest joy are my dogs, Hudson and Noma,” says Chelsey, who raves about the amazing benefits of pet companionship. “They are unconditional love and support. They get me out of the house to go for walks, and to appreciate the beauty outside. I get snuggles and kisses. I just know that they're going to be there for me no matter what, with no judgment ever.”
7. Get professional help if you want it.
Emily encourages people to get the help they need: “There's LBBC, there's your doctor, there's therapy, there's medication. Our bodies go through a lot, and if you need an antidepressant or an anti-anxiety medicine, there is no shame. You just have to listen to your body and get whatever help is out there that you can access. It's so important because it's such a hard diagnosis.”
Sign up at a breast cancer organization or other nonprofit group unrelated to cancer.
Helping other people brings Thomasina joy. “Even when you don't really feel like being bothered, you'd be surprised how much it makes you feel better because you realize there's other people going through the same thing that you're going through. That's why I became an advocate for Living Beyond Breast Cancer. I feel better about myself and my own diagnosis, and I want to help other people and direct them to the right organizations.”
9. Talk with others who’ve been there.
Connect to others who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer through friends, your hospital, or LBBC’s Breast Cancer Helpline, which you can access online at LBBC.org/HELPLINE or by calling toll-free at 888-753-5222 to be matched with someone who has been through an experience like yours.
Jessica understands the power of support when you have metastatic breast cancer: “When you're at home just sitting feeling sorry about yourself, you're not going to see the changes. The changes you see when you sit down with another person, another patient, and you talk about it and you open yourself, it's going to make you feel so much better, I guarantee you. It's a relief and the weight off your shoulders, because probably we all have family, but sometimes they're not enough, because sometimes they don't understand.”
Want to get more insights from women living with metastatic breast cancer? Watch Telling stories, making meaning now.
Thank you to our Telling stories, making meaning video series sponsors
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