It’s normal to feel afraid when you’re sick. People may be afraid of uncontrolled pain, dying, or what happens after their finished treatment, and how their life has changed now that they have come through cancer treatment. These same feelings may be experienced by family members and friends.
Anxiety may be described as feeling nervous, on edge, or worried. It is a normal emotion that alerts your body to respond to a threat, the threat being your fears related to cancer and your past treatment. But intense and long-term anxiety is a disorder.
Acute anxiety occurs in short episodes that end quickly. Chronic anxiety remains over time. Anxiety symptoms may be mild or severe. And some of the symptoms may be similar to those of depression. Often, this is because depression occurs along with anxiety.
Signs and symptoms of anxiety include:
- Uncontrolled worry
- Trouble solving problems and focusing thoughts
- Muscle tension (the person may also look tense or tight)
- Trembling or shaking
- Restlessness, may feel keyed up or on edge
- Dry mouth
- Irritability or angry outbursts (grouchy or short-tempered)
If a person has these symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, and they are interfering with his or her life, having a sit down and talking about your mental health could be beneficial. Keep in mind that sometimes, despite having all the symptoms, a person may deny having these feelings. But if they’re willing to admit that they feel distressed or uncomfortable, therapy can often help.
Things to do to help
- Encourage, but do not force, each other to talk.
- Share feelings and fears that you or the anxious person may be having.
- Listen carefully to each other’s feelings. Offer support, but don’t deny or discount feelings.
- Remember that it’s OK to feel sad and frustrated.
- Get help through counseling and/or support groups.
- Use meditation, prayer, or other types of spiritual support if it helps.
- Try deep breathing and relaxation exercises. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, focus on each body part and relax it, start with your toes and work up to your head. When relaxed try to think of a pleasant place such as a beach in the morning or a sunny field on a spring day.
- Talk with a doctor about using anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medicines.
Cancer related depression can be difficult to identify. It can look a lot like the sadness, fear and anxiety you’d expect to accompany a cancer diagnosis. It’s normal to grieve over the changes that cancer brings to a person’s life. The future, which may have seemed so sure before, now becomes uncertain. However, if you keep canceling on that friend who wants to meet for dinner, though, or you find it harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning, you may be suffering from something more serious than sadness. It may be cancer-related depression, which affects one in four cancer patients.
Symptoms of depression include:
- A sense of hopelessness
- A lack of interest in activities you typically enjoy
- Insomnia (disrupted sleep) or “hypersomnia” (excessive sleeping) and ongoing fatigue
- Irritability and difficulty with concentration and/or memory
- Significant, unexplained weight loss or weight gain, or changes in appetite
- Suicidal thoughts or feelings, or recurrent thoughts of death
If you have any symptoms of depression, you should seek out help from wherever you feel comfortable getting it. Be it a friend, family member, or counsellors. Mental health professionals may be able to help you manage depression with social support and professional help, such as counselling, medication, exercise and meditation.
Things to do to help the clinically depressed person with cancer
Seeing someone you care about go through cancer treatment can be very difficult, and when the person you care for is presenting with symptoms of cancer related depression, here are some things you can do to help-
- Encourage the depressed person to continue treatment for depression until symptoms improve, or to talk to the doctor about different treatment if there’s no improvement after 2 or 3 weeks.
- Promote physical activity, especially mild exercise such as daily walks.
- Help make appointments for mental health treatment, if needed.
- Provide transportation for treatment, if needed.
- Engage the person in conversation and activities they enjoy.
- Remember that it’s OK to feel sad and grieve over the losses that cancer has brought to their lives, and to yours.
- Realize that being pessimistic and thinking everything is hopeless are symptoms of depression and should get better with treatment.
- Reassure the person that with time and treatment, he or she will start to feel better – and although changes to the treatment plan are sometimes needed, it’s important to be patient.
Things not to do if you suspect someone is dealing with anxiety or depression-
- Keep feelings inside – you have to look after yourself before you can look after anyone else. Ensure that you are staying on top of your own mental health while helping the ones you love with theirs.
- Force someone to talk when they’re not ready.
- Blame yourself or another person for feeling depressed
- Tell a person to cheer up if they seem depressed.
- Try to reason with a person whose depression appears severe. Instead, talk with the doctor about medicines and other kinds of help.