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"I always considered myself quite good at handling stress, but cancer was a whole different story. It's the kind of stress nothing can prepare you for. My doctor suggested I see a counselor to learn some stress management skills. I wasn't sure at first, but I'm glad I stuck with it because these skills have really helped me go on with my life."—Clara, 64
"I was pretty stoic for the first few months after my diagnosis. Then I started having bad headaches and couldn't seem to stay focused at work. I told my doctor, and he said it was probably due to stress. He said if I could find ways to manage my stress, I'd feel better. So now I'm determined to get a handle on it."—Dale, 59
Everyone deals with cancer in his or her own way. And everyone reacts differently to stress. You may have physical signs such as headaches and fatigue, although those physical signs could also be side effects of treatment.
But stress can also cause changes in your thoughts or mood. And negative feelings are the last thing you need when you're facing cancer and cancer treatment. They get in the way when you need to focus on feeling as good as possible. You may:
Start by doing some simple relaxation exercises, such as progressive muscle relaxation and roll breathing.
And let your doctor and medical team know that you're feeling stressed. When they know how you're feeling and what's bothering you, they're better able to give you the care you need.
There's a lot you can do to lower your stress. The key is to find one or two ways to cope with stress that work for you. Try to pick at least one you can do even when your energy is low. You can try different things until you find what works best for you.
Here are some examples:
It's great to have family and friends who are good listeners. But not everyone has someone to talk to. And sometimes it's easier to talk to someone who isn't directly affected by your cancer. A counselor or therapist can help you work through the emotions and stress of cancer and simply listen to your worries and anything else you feel like talking about.
Different types of counseling include family therapy, couples therapy, group counseling, and individual counseling. Finding a good fit with a counselor is important. If you make an appointment with a counselor and find that you're not comfortable talking to him or her, it's okay to try someone else.
Talk to your cancer care team about what counseling might be available to you.
It's okay to feel angry, sad, and frustrated when you're facing cancer. It's okay to grieve. But if these feelings or stress get in the way of your ability to carry on with daily activities and nothing seems to help, talk to your doctor. He or she has other resources that may be just what you need.
The following booklets from the National Cancer Institute's website may be helpful:
Current as of:
May 7, 2013
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Catherine D. Serio, PhD - Behavioral Health
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