Mental Health And Cancer: Emotional Changes And Coping Mechanisms

Being diagnosed with cancer can be the darkest moment in a persons’ life.

This insidious disease threatens not only the life and physical health of the person but can also devastate their mental and emotional well-being with consequences that could linger well after the cancer itself has been beaten.

Paying attention and being mindful of the mental state of your loved one suffering from cancer is crucial. 

Many people experience a swirl of numerous and often contradicting emotions while trying to internalize and come to grips with the diagnosis. People can go through sudden mood swings, detachment, depression, and other behavioral and character changes.

The cancer patient’s family, friends, and loved ones can also struggle to express their own feelings. Depending on the specific circumstances, deciding on an appropriate and thoughtful gift for a cancer patient could be a well-received gesture.

Cancer And Mental Health

Patients who have dealt with mental illnesses in the past or have already existing problems could experience a relapse after being diagnosed with cancer.

The diagnosis could even unlock mental health disorder symptoms in patients who have not previously exhibited such issues.

Keep in mind that a certain impact on the patient’s mental health is to be expected. After all, it is perfectly natural to feel sadness or worry about the disease and its treatment. 

The crucial part is distinguishing between these symptoms and the ones that could be signs of a dangerous mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and others.

Even professionals can misinterpret certain symptoms such as hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, feelings of helplessness, etc., and regard them as a normal emotional response.

Doing so, however, could mean that the patient is not receiving the mental health treatment that they may require.

Dealing With Depression

Many of the symptoms associated with depression can naturally occur in cancer patients, making it extremely hard to recognize and diagnose. Depression can also be one of the hardest things to cope with and overcome for patients and their families, friends, and loved ones.

Doctors and professionals have become better at identifying depression in cancer patients and treating it, but sometimes the symptoms could appear after the cancer treatment has been completed. 

Many patients could be preoccupied and hyper-focused on surviving their therapy and getting rid of the cancer to pay attention to their mental state. As such, the full impact of the experience could hit them after the immediate pressure of the disease has subsided.

The patient’s behavior could seem utterly incomprehensible to their friends and family. Instead of feeling cheerful that they have beaten the deadly disease, the person could seem down, sad, and unmotivated.

No matter when the symptoms of depression first appear, it is paramount to seek professional help and begin treatment as soon as possible. 

Emotional Support

Research has demonstrated that having sufficient emotional support from family and friends can bring tangible benefits to the well-being of a person diagnosed with cancer.

Finding the right way to approach the topic can be problematic initially. People could be afraid of saying something inappropriate and putting further pressure on their loved ones.

Unfortunately, there is no universal approach – each cancer patient goes through their own unique set of challenges.

However, acknowledging the situation, openly stating that you do not wish to intrude, and following the queues coming from the cancer patient are all valid tips.

Furthermore, do not impose your views or considerations on the person. Instead, let them freely voice their own thoughts. Sometimes, the best way to show support is simply being there and listening. 

Coping Mechanisms For Cancer Patients

Depending on the type and stage of cancer, different coping mechanisms may be required. After all, a terminally ill patients may need to come to terms with their mortality and be with their family and loved ones as much as possible.

Still, there are several practices and activities that can help alleviate some of the more common negative mental consequences:

Remain Active

Try to perform regular physical activity, whether it will be just a walk around the neighborhood or a simple routine of indoor exercises. Doing so can help when you feel overwhelmed by feelings of anger, stress, and anxiety.

Although many cancer patients experience loss of appetite, it is vital to continue eating healthy and drinking enough water daily.

However, it may be necessary to consult with a professional dietitian and decide on an appropriate food plan according to the specific cancer type, its stage, and the planned treatment. 

Don’t Fight Your Thoughts

Many people with cancer regularly experience periods of repeatedly going over the same troubling thoughts about the disease, their future, or why they got sick. These periods could become so intense that they could prevent the person from falling asleep or being active in the day.

While exerting conscious efforts to distract themselves could bring momentary results, the thoughts usually come back later during a more quiet moment.

One way to manage these periods is to acknowledge the validity of the concerns but not get caught up in them. If possible, let your thoughts come and go freely, without focusing on anyone in particular. 

Seek Support

If it seems like you can no longer handle the mental pressure, the side effects of the therapy, and the need to still do your daily tasks, do not be afraid to ask for help or seek support.

Turn to your friends, book a session with a professional counselor, or try to connect with people that have been through a similar cancer situation.

Be brave enough to admit that you need help in this difficult period!

Your friends, family, and loved ones could have been trying to find the right way to offer their help without appearing too overbearing all along. 

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