It’s not uncommon to experience a wide range of emotions following a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, including stress, anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and depression. These emotions can have a strong effect on your mental health.
As you discuss your treatment options with your doctor, keep in mind that treating the physical symptoms of metastatic breast cancer is just one part of a comprehensive plan.
It’s important to also take into account the mental and emotional effects of your diagnosis. Not only will it improve your overall quality of life, but it could also help you as you go through the treatment process.
In one study, mortality rates were 25 percent higher in people with cancer who had depressive symptoms and 39 percent higher in people diagnosed with major depression.
Try not to let the stress posed by the cancer experience prevent you from continuing your life. Consider these 10 resources for mental health support.
A mental health professional can help you cope with your diagnosis on many levels.
A professional can do more than just listen to your concerns. They can also teach you how to explain your illness to your children or how to deal with your family’s response. In addition, they can provide tips on controlling stress and teach you problem-solving strategies.
You can meet individually with a counselor or psychologist or participate in small group sessions. Many nonprofits also offer help over the phone.
It’s important to avoid hiding from family and friends during this stressful time. Be open about your emotions and fears with them. Remember that it’s OK to feel frustrated or angry. Family and friends are there to listen and help you manage those sentiments.
A 2016 review found that women with breast cancer who are more socially isolated experience an increase in cancer-related mortality. Try not to keep your feelings bottled up. Reach out to your loved ones for support.
Support groups are helpful because you get to talk to other people who are experiencing some of the same things that you’re going through. Support groups can be in-person, online, or over the phone. Many support groups are tailored to your age or stage of breast cancer treatment or recovery.
To find a support group, visit the following websites:
These organizations can help you find support groups all across the country. You can also ask your doctor or social worker to refer you to a local group.
Support groups aren’t for everyone. If you’re not comfortable expressing your feelings with a group, you may want to start with one-on-one counseling. But consider giving a support group a try to see what it’s like. You can always come back to it at a later date when you’re feeling more comfortable.
Volunteering in your community can make you feel empowered. Helping others can be a rewarding experience. You can volunteer for an organization like Susan G. Komen or the American Cancer Society. You can also contact a local charity to see if they need help.
Stress reduction can help you manage depression and anxiety. It also has a positive effect on your blood pressure and overall heart health. Reducing stress can help you manage fatigue as well.
Stress management comes in many forms. Here are a few good ways to relieve stress:
- deep breathing exercises
- mindfulness meditation
- tai chi
- guided imagery
Up to 1 in 4 people with cancer have clinical depression, according to the American Cancer Society.
Symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness, loss of pleasure in daily activities, and trouble thinking and concentrating that lasts for two weeks or more.
You may spend substantial amounts of time worrying about your future. Anxiety can be consuming and lead to panic attacks.
Don’t be ashamed if you need to take an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication to help you deal with your diagnosis.
Work with your doctor or a mental health professional to find a medication that works for you. Make sure they’re aware of all the other medications you’re taking before you start taking an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication. Keep in mind that these medications may take a week or two to take effect.
Figuring out the planning and financial aspects of treatment, such as insurance, can be a lot to think about. Ask your doctor to refer you to a social worker who has experience working with people with breast cancer.
A social worker can act as your contact person for sharing information between your medical care team and yourself. They can also refer you to further resources in your community and provide you with practical advice about your overall treatment.
Uncertainty can have a negative effect on your mental health. The more you know about your diagnosis, the more equipped you may feel at making important decisions about your care. Ask your doctor for informational brochures or to refer you to websites to learn more.
Physical exercise is known to reduce stress and can even help you feel more in control of your body.
Exercise releases neurochemicals known as endorphins. Endorphins can help increase feelings of positivity. While it may not seem possible, physical exercise can also decrease fatigue and help you sleep better at night.
Activities like walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, yoga, and team sports can be both fun and relaxing. Exercise can also get your mind off your diagnosis for a bit.
Your diet can affect how you feel. Consider avoiding highly processed foods, fried foods, sugar, and alcohol. While there’s no perfect diet for metastatic breast cancer, aim for an overall healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
When you have metastatic breast cancer, taking care of your emotional health is just as important as your physical health. Staying positive may be challenging. Take advantage of every resource available to you to support your mental health.
If you’re having thoughts of suicide, or can’t stop thinking about death, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Visit your doctor or see a mental health professional right away if you’re finding it hard to eat, sleep, get out of bed, or you’ve lost all interest in your normal activities.