Monday 11 April, 2022

Anxiety and Cancer

Hayley is the Social Media Manager at War On Cancer.

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With all the changes cancer brings, it’s common for many people to experience feelings of anxiety and stress. The disruption to day to day often leads to newfound feelings of worry and it can feel like yet another side effect of a cancer diagnosis you didn’t sign up for.

Being able to spot the signs of anxiety or a panic attack early on allows us to take control of our emotions, work through, and manage what we’re experiencing.

Some signs and symptoms of anxiety include:

  • restlessness
  • a sense of dread
  • feeling constantly “on edge”
  • difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • dizziness
  • tiredness
  • a noticeably strong, fast or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
  • muscle aches and tension
  • trembling or shaking
  • dry mouth
  • excessive sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • stomach ache
  • feeling sick
  • headache
  • pins and needles
  • difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia)

Anxiety can range from mild to severe, with the most severe being what we call ‘panic’. 

Experiencing anxiety, feelings of worry and fear on a regular basis can lead to us wanting to avoid things or situations we know can trigger those emotions. However, when going through cancer, this can be hard to do. Fear of the unknown, going to tests and scans and waiting for results may be a part of having cancer, and oftentimes unavoidable. It’s completely normal that the things we experience when going through cancer can lead to increased levels of anxiety. 

It’s important know that there are some concrete actions that you can take and put in place to help when the anxious moments strike: 

Allow yourself to feel 

You don’t have to fight it. If you find yourself feeling anxious, allow yourself to sit with how you’re feeling and work out where the anxiety is coming from. Fighting it can lead to ‘worrying about worrying’. Instead, give yourself the time to reflect and process how you’re feeling and keep reminding yourself that it will pass (even if it doesn’t feel like it).

Take a moment to breathe

Tuning in to your breathing can be hugely beneficial when you start to feel anxiety take over. Slow, deep breaths are a physical tool that help the body and mind focus and regain control. Try breathing in for four, holding for four and then breathing out for four. Try doing this whilst picturing the things, places and people you love. Close your eyes and be transported to a place of calm. 

Reach out to someone you can trust

You may know the saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’, right? Reach out to someone you trust and talk to them about how you’re feeling. Allow them to listen and support you. It can be hard to open up and be vulnerable about how you’re feeling. Remember that it’s a sign of courage, not of weakness, and the people who care about you want to support you and lend a listening ear.

If you think your anxiety or panic is due to cancer, it can help to be part of a place where you can share what you’re feeling with others who get what cancer can be like. The War On Cancer app is a place for anyone impacted by cancer to connect with others in a similar situation and share experiences and stories with people who understand. 

Let yourself be distracted

Find something you know makes you happy and do that. Blast your favourite song, watch your favourite movie or get outside, anything that makes you feel good. Shifting our focus to something that makes us feel good can help us move through moments of anxiety without allowing it to take over. 

Talk to your doctor


If feeling anxious is starting to impact your day to day, talk to your healthcare team. Whilst it can be scary to be honest about how you’re feeling, your Doctor will be able to offer you sound, practical advice whilst also understanding how cancer is impacting your life. 

Sources:

https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/generalised-anxiety-disorder/symptoms/

https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/panic-disorder/

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