Sermsak (Sam) Lolak, MD, is board-certified in psychiatry and psychosomatic medicine. He is an oncologic psychiatrist at Inova Life With Cancer, where he specializes in helping patients manage depression, stress and anxiety in the context of cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Having breast cancer is an incredibly stressful experience. Besides messing with your mood, stress negatively affects physical health and the ability to remember, focus and think clearly.
But you can take control of your stress, even when your illness and treatment leaves you feeling your worst. Add these 7 strategies into your routine to help keep tension at bay.
- Stay Active. Regular exercise is the most important thing you can do to reduce stress, improve mood and sleep and keep your body healthy. If you’re new to exercise, start walking a few minutes each day and work your way toward longer, more intense activities. It can seem daunting to exercise if you’re feeling under the weather. But research shows that exercise actually helps reduce fatigue from cancer treatment.
- Be Mindful. Mindfulness means observing your present thoughts, feelings and sensations without judgment. The practice has been shown to reduce stress and help refocus attention on the things that matter.
- Lean on Loved Ones. Don’t be afraid to let friends and family know how best they can help you, whether it’s cleaning your kitchen or lending a sympathetic ear. Sometimes, though, the best support comes from people who have walked in your shoes. Consider joining a support group for people living with cancer.
- Strike a Balance. Dealing with cancer is often about finding balance: between acceptance and control, between living in the moment and planning for the future. Negative emotions like pain, sadness, anxiety and anger are normal. Rather than ignore those feelings or push them away, try to reflect and process those feelings in order to reach acceptance. Focus on the things you can control, such as eating healthy, being active and taking steps to optimize your health.
- Practice Gratitude. As awful as cancer is, there are things to be grateful for – a day you’re feeling energetic, time with family, a beautiful sunset. Reflecting on the things you’re grateful for has been shown to increase one’s sense of wellbeing. Start a gratitude journal, and write down 3 things you’re grateful for each day.
- Be Kind to Yourself. We’re often kinder to others than we are to ourselves. Try not to beat yourself up if you miss an exercise session or feel guilty that you feel anxious even after treatment ends. Giving yourself some grace can alleviate stress – and self-compassion is a skill that improves with practice.
- Get Help. If you’re struggling with negative emotions, don’t go it alone. Support groups or counselors can help you develop strategies to manage stress and live your best life, despite illness.
Learn more about Inova Life with Cancer, which provides free counseling, education, support groups and classes for anyone affected by cancer.
Discover how Inova tackles breast cancer at inova.org/gameplan.