Monday 13 June, 2022

Coping With Change During Cancer

Antigone is a Counselling Psychologist at Mindler.

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It seems impossible to refer to cancer without talking about change, they are so interlinked. Changes to your physical health, to your mental wellbeing and your day-to-day life occur in every stage of cancer, whether it is prior to diagnosis, during treatment or after treatment.  

In this article, written by Counselling Psychologist at Mindler, Antigone Lanitis, we look at how the changes due to cancer can affect a person and explore some of the ways in which you can help yourself cope with that change. 

Coping involves the approach you use to preserve your mental health and adapt to the stressors produced by cancer. Each individual copes differently and some approaches to coping are more effective in fostering an individual’s mental well-being than others. 

At the moment, you may be coping with your feelings around diagnosis and how to proceed, you may be coping with the side effects of treatment, your life may have been disrupted by your illness, you may be coping with a loved one’s diagnosis or you may be coping with the impact of your illness on your loved ones. 

Cancer involves change, and change requires adjustments. Some smaller changes, such as finding time to attend doctor’s appointments, we may be better equipped to cope with. However, change can also contribute to significant disruptions to your life. The stress of change can be overwhelming and can also have an adverse effect on both your physical and mental health. 

These may include symptoms like: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability 
  • Fluctuations in appetite
  • Muscle ache
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Stomach upset
  • Tension headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating

How you cope with change can play a vital role in your mental health and impact your feelings about your life. Feelings of negativity, bitterness, anger and regret are normal to develop during any stage of cancer, but may be exacerbated when you are struggling to cope with the impact that it is having on your day-to-day.

Here are some ways to help yourself cope with change during cancer:

Take control where you can

Cancer and change also involve a lot of uncertainty about the future, which can make you fearful. of change. Helpful ways in which to deal with change can be reminding yourself what is within your control and preparing yourself. 

Take time to think of events that may be coming up, what obstacles may arise and how you may overcome them. For example, you may need to take time off for treatment, or you may no longer be able to do the school run. 

Make a plan

Planning for when they occur can make those changes less stressful. Planning may involve creating a checklist of things to do prior to the event, saving money to avoid financial stress, talking to your supervisor at work in advance and discussing with your support system what should happen in case of emergency. 

Even though cancer is not a change that you are in control of, planning and initiating changes regarding the stage you are in may make you feel like you have more control.

Don’t avoid it

Another way of coping can be avoidance, which involves avoiding the stress instead of dealing with it. Whilst avoidance serves a purpose in the short term, as it alleviates stress, research suggests that it has an adverse effect in the long term. 

For example, you may avoid calling or visiting your doctor for fear of bad news, which reinforces the thought that when you do end up contacting them you will receive bad news. And although this may be the case, avoidance does not offer the opportunity for us to receive any feedback, whether it is good or bad, and in turn can lead to increased stress. 

Hence, preparing yourself and being proactive in coping with changes can aid you in feeling in control and empowered during a challenging time. 

Stick to your routine

Keeping some feeling of normalcy can be helpful when the world around you is changing. Studies suggest that keeping routines can aid in people feeling better able to cope with stress and anxiety. 

Things like sticking to a similar sleeping and waking time each day can offer some sense of structure.  Trying to get some movement, eating well, and getting adequate rest when you can are also things within your routine that you can control and stick to, to help with that sense of normalcy.. 

A routine that is suitable for you is dependent on your situation and your needs. Think Hence, thinking about habits or daily activities that you can do given your situation that are comforting and help you relax. 

Explore relaxation techniques

Additionally, you may want to add relaxation techniques such as soothing breathing or mindful awareness to your routine, as these can help reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety and aid you in being present.

Lean on your support system

Finding support when you are dealing with change is essential. Your support system may consist of friends, family, loved ones and others that have been through cancer themselves (like those in the War On Cancer community).

Support may take on many forms such as a listening ear, encouragement, information, or tangible support. 

Studies suggest that social support aids people who are coping with health-related changes, by making them feel less isolated and lonely and encouraging health behaviours such as taking medications or engaging in exercise. 

It’s important to note that others may not be able to identify what your specific needs are and how to best support you. Hence, asking or verbalising what kind of support you need is a good starting point. 

For example, you may want to talk to a friend about what you are going through, or you may want to chat about mundane day-to-day things as a break from talking about cancer. You may want to ask a loved one to pick you up from an appointment. Not making assumptions that others should know how to support you and providing clear and specific requests can aid in getting the support you need. 

One in three people with cancer will experience mental health issues such as anxiety or depression prior to, throughout, or after treatment. It is therefore important to talk to your GP or a mental health professional if you are feeling low or overwhelmed. 

Your GP may refer you onwards to talking therapies such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). 

Counselling involves working with a trained counsellor and can help with coping with changes and thinking about things that are important to you. 

CBT can aid you by changing detrimental thinking patterns or behaviours, by initially recognising them and consequently helping you find ways in which to change them. 

Mindler is an online therapy platform that utilises the CBT approach and a blended model. This involves time with your therapist, alongside resources that are readily available on the app itself. Relaxation techniques previously mentioned in this article such as soothing breathing and practising mindful awareness are available on the Mindler app under our iCBT programmes.

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