Coping With Emotions

4 Ways to Manage Cancer and Anxiety

Talking through your feelings with others who share your challenges is helpful when you are anxious. Practicing mindfulness techniques, like meditation, is another great way to calm your feelings of anxiety. UVA Cancer Center has a dedicated space for meditation that is open to patients and caregivers.

Cancer and anxiety often go hand in hand, and these anxious feelings you get are a completely normal response. They often extend beyond the illness to encompass worries about your life, finances, family and career. If your loved one has cancer, you may experience this anxiety, unaware of your best course of action.

Thankfully, there are ways to limit the extent to which anxiety takes hold. The American Society of Clinical Oncology emphasizes that it’s important not to ignore anxiety. It’s more likely to dissipate when it’s acknowledged than if it’s hidden away, which allows it to gain intensity. The following ideas can help you and your family deal with all the anxiety that cancer brings.

1. Talk to Others

Even well-meaning friends and family members find it difficult to comprehend your situation, and it’s likely hard for you to reach out to them because of that. Support groups provide cancer patients an opportunity to connect on a meaningful level about treatments, side effects and emotions, and can leave you with a better understanding of how cancer affects day-to-day life for others who share your challenges. They’re also a great venue for acknowledging and releasing fears you might not want to share with your family. Support groups for family and caregivers exist, too, and are an important way for your loved ones to learn how to cope with their emotions. If face-to-face group meetings aren’t for you or your family, join relevant Facebook groups or other online support groups. The American Cancer Society maintains a listing of online support resources for patients and caregivers, as does

2. Go Outside and Get Some Exercise

Nature, sunlight and exercise are natural mood lifters. Exercise helps your overall health, and it’s a great way to release pent up energy. The Mayo Clinic shares that one of the ways exercise helps to counteract anxiety is by causing the body to release chemicals that make you feel good. It doesn’t require a major workout — even a short walk can reap benefits. This is an activity you can do alone, or with others, and taking a walk with a loved one is often an enjoyable way to ease both your minds.

3. Try Mindfulness Techniques

Practicing mindfulness can help you learn to calm yourself when cancer and anxiety get overwhelming. It’s a means of acknowledging the moment, and what you’re doing, without passing judgment. Take a deep breath and slowly let it out, noticing how that feels throughout your body. Focus intently on the activity and the movements you use to perform that activity. Meditation, a form of mindfulness, can help when stress and anxiety peak. Many classes are available on mindfulness and meditation, and some are even available online and can be done for a few minutes at a time.

4. Communicate With Your Medical Team

Let your doctor know how you’re feeling. Like many other side effects of treatment, there are ways to reduce the feelings of doom that anxiety produces. Often, lifestyle changes can ease this discomfort, but there are medications that can help as well. Discuss all your symptoms with your doctor, including your emotional ones, so she can make sure your needs are addressed. When caring for someone with cancer, attend to your own health and well-being. See your doctor if anxiety is becoming troublesome so you can be the best caregiver to your ailing family member.

You may find yourself dealing with cancer and anxiety constantly, but it tends to show up around milestones, like the date of diagnosis or the anniversary of the news, prior to scans to check for progression or recurrence or even at the end of treatment. Because anxiety so often spikes around these events, it’s a good idea to be prepared with tools you know help you, no matter what they are.

Counseling services can be extremely helpful in dealing with the complex emotions that accompany cancer. See how UVA Cancer Center can help.

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Judy Schwartz Haley
Judy Schwartz Haley