Cancer and low mood

Thursday 14 February 2019

It's a drab day today - grey skies and a swirling breeze. It got me thinking about how quickly we humans can feel up or down, and the fleeting nature of ‘mood’ in general. By definition, mood is a ‘temporary state of mind or feeling’.

Living with cancer and its treatments can cause emotional turmoil. Its effect on our own mood, and everyone else around us, can be devastating.  Cancer rarely comes along at a convenient time for anyone. Combined with all the normal life stressors you may be facing, there's no wonder you may be feeling low.

When having cancer treatment, your body can experience physical and emotional reactions. It’s often easier to pinpoint the physical effects to whatever treatment you are having. However, it’s sometimes more difficult to acknowledge just what effect it is having on your mood.

For both people with cancer, and/or those they love, sometimes low mood can tip into depression. This may be a totally new experience. If you’ve suffered from low mood before, cancer events may bring back those old feelings, just when you could do without the added stress. (Depression is a kind of extension of the low mood, lasting for days and weeks.)

There can be several things triggering low mood. Treatments and medications can play their part - hormone therapies, steroids, fatigue, body image changes, to name but a few.  Many people with cancer may feel panicky, worried, frustrated and cross at times. Tears may come easily and this may be leaving you feeling vulnerable and exposed. Some days, your low mood just 'is' - there may be no particular reason - you may not want it fixed, but just for it to be recognised, heard and understood. It can be frustrating when those around you are pushing you to 'be positive' and 'cheer up'....meaning well, but not allowing you to show or talk about emotional pain. Sometimes we then just put on a 'brave face' and end up hiding the depth of how we feel.

Living with cancer can feel a lonely experience, at times, with social contact limited, and fatigue leaving more time to think and dwell on things. 

There are helpful things that may help lift your mood. I’ve been researching a few ideas that have helped others:

  •  Getting absorbed in TV, Netflix etc...recording programmes you know lift or distract you, to watch when energy levels and mood are low.
  • Listening to music can be a mood booster, offering escapism, calmness and peace. Perhaps rather than listen to music that reflects your current   mood, listen to music which creates the mood you'd like to feel.
  •  Humour - whether it’s reading, watching or sharing humour, it can be therapeutic and heart lifting - and a great coping strategy.
  •  Friendship and support - try not to be alone all the time. It can be tempting to withdraw into our shells, as it takes effort to be sociable. However talking with others, and feeling a sense of belonging, can help lift how you feel.
  •  Exercise - although it may be limited by how you are feeling, gentle exercise can change how you feel, and tire you out in a natural way. A walk in the countryside, round the block or round the garden can help clear the mind too.
  • Creative writing, whether it’s an online blog, a journal, poetry, or a well earned rant about how things are, can be very cathartic.
  • If you’re an animal lover, appreciation of the unconditional affection from a loved pet can be very rewarding. Looking after another living creature helps us feel valued, and invest in nurturing.  Animals don't judge our moods, appearance, and give more than receive. (However, if it’s your cat you’re hoping to receive warmth and affection from, it could depend on their mood….)
  •  A hug - be it virtual, or physical, can work wonders.
  •  Visiting your local Maggie’s Centre for emotional support can help lift your mood, and ease the isolation. The cancer support specialists can talk through coping strategies to help you, and you'll recognise that you're not alone in feeling as you do.

Sometimes low mood tips into depression. You're going through a great deal, and it can be hard to feel positive some , or all of the time. If you notice you're feeling withdrawn, not sleeping well, anxious or the low mood is continuing for longer than a few days, then do have a talk with your GP. They can recognise depression, and offer support.

Warm wishes


Useful links

Low mood and depression     Breast Cancer Care

Anxiety, fear and depression    American cancer Society

Cancer and your emotions     Cancer Research UK

Mood changes    National Comprehensive Cancer Network

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