Stress and cancer

Monday 14 May 2018

If you or someone close to you has had a diagnosis of cancer, you have experienced a serious stressful life event. Stress can be positive helping us to feel more resilient when we need to. Over longer periods, however, it can be an exhausting extra burden at an already difficult time.

Finding out more about what causes stress, identifying the signs and your personal triggers and developing your own personal stress tool kit can help you to manage stress - allowing you to focus your energy elsewhere.

Find out more below about stress and how Maggie’s can help you to build your stress tool kit.

What is stress?

Stress is your body’s way of responding to challenging circumstances. At times of stress chemicals are released by the body to give you a boost of energy, increase resilience or help to manage emotions through a tough time. This can be really helpful short term, however, longer term, these chemicals can have other effects.

Emotional effects of stress

If you are stressed you may experience your emotions much more intensely than usual. You may feel tearful, irritable, have feelings that you can’t cope or you may feel detached and numb.

Physical efects of stress

Stress can also trigger physical symptoms including headaches, irritable bowel symptoms and rashes. You may not be able to eat or sleep feel sick, or get frequent colds as stress can reduce your resistance to infection.

Cancer and stress

People show stress in different ways and the effects can build up slowly over time. This means it can be difficult to notice signs of long term stress and the added pressure they cause.

People with cancer and their families report several factors which add to stress. These include worrying about the uncertain future, tiring treatments, frequent hospital visits, physical changes, financial and employment worries, relationship pressures, and not feeling in control.

Cancer can have other demands that make your usual coping strategies seem inadequate for the strength of your feelings; you may feel pressured to find new ways of communicating your own feelings or of hearing those of people close to you.

You may have to respond to other people’s preoccupations and fears for example: being told ‘you must stay positive’, people who try to avoid you… …and those who want you to share every detail.

Stress can also happen once treatment has finished. Whilst you are undergoing treatment, most of your time and energy is focused on your treatment and getting healthy. It is only when the immediate crisis is over, and you are trying to adjust to life post cancer, that stress may occur. It is a common point at which many people may seek help, and think about stress management.

Managing stress

Stress management includes gaining control of your thoughts, emotions, and worries and how you deal with problems. it can also involve making changes and taking back control of other areas of your life for example through exercise and a balanced diet.

Finding out more about what causes stress, identifying the signs, your personal triggers and developing your own personal stress tool kit can all help you to manage stress, allowing you to focus your energy elsewhere.

Top tips for managing stress

Prioritise your health: - this will help both your physical and emotional resilience. Try to get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet regularly and drink plenty of water as keeping hydrated helps memory and concentration

Exercise: gentle exercise has many benefits during and after treatment for cancer including helping to manage stress. Find out more from our Cancer support specialist blog

Master time: prioritise tasks, allow yourself time to take things step by step, tackling things one at a time to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Don’t feel you have to answer every email or phone call .

Make time for you: Each day make some space to do something you enjoy however small that is.

Learn to say no and to ask for help when you need it. People are usually willing to help in different ways, they often just don’t know how they can help until you ask them.

Managing thoughts: Thoughts and how we think are closely linked to how we feel. Thoughts are not facts and there are strategies you can learn to help to manage those circling worries and questions.

Relaxation and breathing exercises used regularly can help reduce stress and are also useful techniques to have to hand to help you feel more in control when you are feeling overwhelmed.

Share: Tell someone ( family, friends, GP, Hospital team ) how you are feeling. Visit our Centres or join our online forum to talk with others i in a similar situation

Maggie’s run a free six week ‘Managing Stress’ course for anyone affected by cancer. We also have relaxation groups, mindfulness courses and gentle exercises classes including tai chi and yoga along with professional teams to help you to start to build you own stress management tool kit .

You are welcome to drop into any of our Centres or to message us online if you would like to find out more about managing stress.

Best wishes


Blog originally written  by Robyn April 2018

(Updated April 2020) 

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