Cancer & Emotions Part IV: A Guide for Patients and Family
Cancer and Self Care
Now it’s time to take care of you. Not the physical you, but the personal you. Cancer self care is as important as almost any part of your treatment plan. Take it seriously and commit to it. This article will highlight a few common sense, but not often enough applied, self-care and emotional-care tips, strategies, and techniques to help you through the depression and anxiety that are a normal part of the journey.
Getting “support” from others has many meanings and can be achieved through so many different avenues. You just have to choose the method that works for you. Let me explain. Keeping in touch with a social support network (e.g., friends, other people going through cancer) prevents you from isolating yourself. Less isolation equals less depression and anxiety. The reason I say that the type of
social support you get has to work for you is because if you agree to, let’s say, join a cancer support group, but you don’t love talking in front of lot of people or aren’t ready to listen to other people’s struggles, then odds are, you won’t frequent the group. Maybe you prefer smaller groups or one-on-one contact with a mentor. Ask your doctor or go online and search for resources for cancer patients in your community.
If you don’t want to go alone at first, ask a friend or family member to go with you. Find a method or meeting format that you’re comfortable with and get out there. I often tell my clients, “it’s got to have the 3 P’s”; purpose specific to your needs (ie a cancer support group, etc), presence (you gotta show up regularly) and participation (if you aren’t active and engaged then you are missing the most important part),
This might be the last thing you feel like doing if your treatment leaves you tired and/or you’re too stressed to think about (much less do) anything “fun.” This tip is not meant to be fun…at first. The point here is to pick an activity that you are able to do and that you somewhat enjoy or have a special interest in. This includes (but is not limited to) cooking, knitting, fishing, scrap booking, swimming, hiking, cycling, or drawing. You get the idea. You should pick an activity that is accessible to you (i.e., you don’t have to travel far to participate, it doesn’t cost too much money) and that you can do at least two to three times weekly.
You might be wondering, “What does this have to do with depression and anxiety?” The idea is that when you engage in certain novel activities, different parts of your brain are activated and stimulated. This neurological activity is like rocket fuel for the parts of your brain that protect you from depression and anxiety. It’s like your brain juices start flowing (i.e., neurotransmitter release) and this makes you feel better.
A Note On Knowledge
This just means educating yourself about depression and anxiety. This tip is good in moderation because there is such a thing as overdoing it here. Inform yourself through reliable online material and books and get several opinions, but then stop. I say this because it’s important to not obsess over learning about depression and anxiety. You want to become an expert at applying what you have learned to your every day life. Knowledge is great, but what you do with that knowledge is more important.
Do I Really Need Counseling?
Seeing a licensed mental health professional can be helpful if you are dealing with depression and anxiety throughout your cancer treatment. Even if you are fortunate enough to have a great support group of family and friends, sometimes it’s still a good idea to seek the objective and neutral feedback and treatment from a therapist. Talking to your support network is important, but serves a different purpose. Sometimes you can’t (or don’t want to) vent or discuss sensitive topics with family or friends because they will have their own feelings and emotional reactions to anything you tell them. In other words, if you’re sad or worried, your family/friends might respond to you with equal (or greater) sadness and worry.
There are many different therapy models and treatments for depression and anxiety, but a common (and effective) one is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) (and even Mindfulness Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy or M-CBT). CBT is a short-term therapy approach that looks helps you look into how your thinking and behavior influences the way you feel. It might sound simple, but studies on the effectiveness of CBT for people dealing with depression and anxiety have been pretty impressive. An experienced counselor who specializes in working with cancer patients and their families will include M-CBT or CBT as well as other approaches, tailored to your individual and personal situation.
One Last Thought
Remember to talk to your doctor about your depression and anxiety. Avoid doing what (unfortunately) many people dealing with depression and anxiety do: They keep it to themselves as if they were the first and last person in the world dealing with it. And yes, a lot of times it may feel exactly like that. This tendency to keep depression and anxiety hush-hush is probably related to the stigma surrounding mental health (but this is a topic for another article). Talk to someone if you are feeling depressed or anxious during your cancer treatment. There are so many options and solutions out there for you. Stop, Take A Moment, Breathe, You Can Do This !