Rarely are people expecting a cancer diagnosis, so when one comes, it can feel like a bomb going off in your life. A diagnosis can be terrifying enough to cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and sometimes it’s not the diagnosis but the the fear of recurrence that causes the chronic and debilitating stress.
A cancer diagnosis can also cause post-traumatic stress (PTS), which is similar to PTSD but not as severe. Anxiety about cancer is also common. All of these conditions are very real and can occur during cancer treatment or years afterward. Professional help and medication are often critical to managing these conditions. This list is not meant in any way to replace those vital steps. But there are steps you can take to cope with cancer-related PTSD and anxiety concurrently with the treatment your doctor recommends. Here are 10 strategies for coping with cancer-related PTSD and anxiety:
1. Be in the know
It sounds simple, but knowing that there’s a name for what you’re going through and that there are others going through the same thing provides a lot of comfort. It’s a good idea to seek a diagnosis so you know exactly what you’re facing. Knowing all you can about anxiety or another condition can help you identify symptoms as symptoms rather than just feel like you’re going crazy. Knowing about your diagnosis and its characteristics can also take away some of its power—anxiety is less scary when you know what it is, how to recognize it, and how to manage it.
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2. Don’t give up on your favorite things
It is so tempting, when you’re dealing with any form of anxiety or stress, to simply draw into yourself where you know you’re safe. But abandoning the things that you once enjoyed won’t make your symptoms go away, and it can actually help maintain your negative feelings, fear, and depression. Try to keep doing what you used to enjoy, even if it’s not the same as before, and you will likely learn to enjoy yourself again. In the meantime, staying active and connected can help keep symptoms from getting worse.
3. Try Grounding
You may have heard of “grounding,” a technique to get through an anxiety attack. Grounding isn’t meant to cure or eliminate anxiety, but it can help a person reconnect with the here and now. It can be especially helpful when you are experiencing flashbacks or a feeling like you are losing control. Grounding is meant to direct your attention to something concrete and is often done by touching and/or describing things you see (“I see a blue sky. I am sitting in a green chair.”), feel (“I am petting a soft dog. The fur is thick and shaggy.”), or taste (“This apple is sweet and crisp.”).
You can also try listing things out loud such as state capitals, periodic elements… anything that occupies your mind. Remember the goal is to connect with the world around you, so keep your eyes open and speak out loud.
4. Find someone to talk with
Please, don’t stay trapped inside your own head! Talking with others who experience anxiety or PTSD can provide a much-needed outlet. Hearing about the experiences of others can help you keep things in perspective, validate your own experiences, and help you learn new coping strategies. A therapist is a great person to talk to, as are friends and family—as long as they are patient and supportive and don’t think you should hurry up and “get over it.” Support groups specific to what you are going through can be immensely healing, and many are available online. Help and understanding could be only an internet search away!
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Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.