Cancer Diagnosis: 10 Tips for Coping with the Anxiety

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April 27, 2020
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cancer and anxiety

A cancer diagnosis is life-changing. From the moment of diagnosis forward, a person’s life will forever be categorized into two parts—the time before diagnosis and the time afterwards.

Very few things can trigger more fear, anxiety, or uncertainty then a cancer diagnosis.  The mind becomes flooded with questions, potential outcomes are considered, and feelings can vacillate from hopeful to hopeless in a matter of seconds.

If the worst is assumed, a person may start to focus on getting their affairs in order. They may begin to consider their own mortality along with the loved ones that they would leave behind. If a more positive outlook is taken, fear and anxiety can still persist regarding treatments, physician appointments, or potential surgical procedures.

Whatever the situation, it is safe to say that a cancer diagnosis is overwhelming.  However, by utilizing coping mechanisms, a person can at least manage their thoughts, emotions, and feelings, helping with some much needed anxiety relief. 

Here are 10 tips for coping with a cancer diagnosis:

  1. Obtain Knowledge-The fear of the unknown is often scarier than what actually is. It is always helpful to gather information and gain understanding to dispel these fears. Understanding one’s cancer diagnosis is vital to helping them make the best decisions possible regarding their care.
  2. Be Honest-It is important for a person to be honest with their physician regarding their symptoms, treatment compliance, and experiences. It is also beneficial to be truthful with loved ones about a cancer diagnosis instead of trying to shield or protect them with omissions or lies.
  3. Prepare for Changes-Changing one’s mindset after diagnosis and preparing for changes can help an individual to transition and adapt to upcoming changes. It is never helpful for a person to fool themselves by thinking that things will stay exactly the same.
  4. Seek Support-Building a support network is an extremely helpful coping strategy. A support network can include family members, friends, or loved ones. It can also include joining an online support forum or joining a cancer support group at a local hospital or medical center.
  5. Foster a Healthy Lifestyle-Eating healthy and nutritious meals, exercising, and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can be helpful to maintain energy and to promote an overall sense of well-being.
  6. Mindfulness-Engaging in mindfulness practices can help a person to stay present in the moment and to encourage mental health. Deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and guided imagery are other helpful interventions to quiet one’s mind.
  7. Prioritize-Take the opportunity to ascertain what is truly important in life. Make time for people and activities that bring joy, while terminating relationships or things that foster unhappiness.  Create and review both short and long-term goals.
  8. Self-Care-Being good to yourself is extremely important for emotional health and well-being.  Participate in activities that make you feel good, whether it is getting a massage, playing the guitar, or going out for coffee with a friend. 
  9. Legal and Financial Advisement-A cancer diagnosis often triggers fears regarding the future, both for the individual and for loved ones who could potentially be left behind. Seeking legal and financial support and advisement can help bring peace of mind for whatever the future may hold.
  10. Seek Professional Help-There is never any shame in seeking professional help if things become too overwhelming. A licensed mental practitioner can help a person to discuss and process their diagnosis in addition to teaching them new coping mechanisms. A psychiatrist can assess whether medication may be helpful in managing symptoms of depression, anger, or anxiety.

Incorporating one or more of these coping strategies can help an individual to more easily navigate through a very difficult, emotionally taxing, and tumultuous time period.

Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy  facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.