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Mental Health and Cancer Diagnosis — The Emotional Toll of Cancer

Beacon Advocates Blog Posts - Mental Health and Cancer Diagnosis — The Emotional Toll of Cancer

Considering that anxiety often accompanies a disease like cancer, it’s crucial to address your mental health and cancer diagnosis at the same time. In today’s blog post, we take a look at how anxiety can affect your mind and body and the options you have to find support beyond cancer treatment.

Anxiety and Cancer

Being diagnosed with cancer can be a traumatic experience that raises stress levels. Since the cancer diagnosis doesn’t “simply go away,” neither does your sadness, anger, worries, and fears. They all need to be dealt with. If we leave these emotions to fester, the stress can become chronic and triggers the adrenal glands regularly.

How Anxiety Affects Your Body

Mental health and cancer diagnosis.
Adrenal glands are responsible for the rush of adrenaline we feel when we are in immediate danger. They also raise blood pressure, burn up electrolytes, suppress the immune system, and in order to push your body to survive the encounter. 

Of course, most of us aren’t face to face with a mountain lion or running from a tsunami. Our body doesn’t know that our fight is with cancer. It only knows there is a fight, and it’s preparing you. 

The Panic Attack

The problem is that this particular fight can take months or years to win, and the last thing you need is to reduce your body’s resources and decrease the efficiency of your immune response. You need all of that for your cancer care journey.

Have you ever sat down to eat dinner and suddenly felt a rush of fear and anxiety? No, your chicken didn’t just sprout arms and legs and grab your knife, but you can’t help but feel like you should be waging war or running from your plate. 

What is happening and why? 

About 10 to 60 minutes after the initial adrenaline rush, the adrenal glands produce a hormone called “cortisol,” which is known for causing the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. Your pupils will dilate, your heart races and your breathing rate speeds up. You also might have trouble hearing as if you are underwater, and your peripheral vision can disappear, leaving you with a “tunnel” to see through.

This can be terrifying for people who do not understand what is going on. After all, nothing is wrong and you might have been feeling relaxed before the panic attack strikes.

But there is something you can do.

  • Close your eyes and focus on relaxing your body from your toes to your nose. 
  • Practice breathing exercises, especially belly breathing. 
  • If you are having trouble taking normal breaths, let out all the air in your lungs just once to relax your diaphragm, which can become tense from stress.
  • Call a friend and talk, ask them to make you laugh or tell you a story to get your mind off what you are feeling.

Speak with your cancer care advocates and they will help you to connect with people who can make a difference in your emotional and mental health. 

Anxiety and Cancer… then Depression?

Anxiety and depression go hand in hand. In recent studies, psychologists have concluded that they are two parts of the same mental condition. 

This is not to say that someone can not experience one without the other, but when anxiety is left untreated, it consistently leads to depression. In fact, more than half of those with anxiety have depression and about 70% of those with depression also have anxiety.

We can learn from this and avoid mental illness by relieving stress levels immediately before they escalate and spiral into a deteriorating mental health crisis. 

Mental Health and Cancer Diagnosis – Support Resources

Keep in mind, you are not alone! When you are ready to find support, you have a wide range of options to choose from:

  • Your medical team
  • Mental health professionals
  • Local support groups
  • Self-help groups
  • Crisis hotlines
  • Cancer care advocates
  • Friends
  • Family

Don’t stop trying until you find the right support system for you!

Having a support network that you can count on is the first step towards a healthy mind. Once you find your people and a treatment plan that works, you can put your best foot forward and maintain a positive outlook on life.

If you are reading this because you have a loved one who has had a recent cancer diagnosis, we have advice for you, too

Do you need help RIGHT NOW?

If you are experiencing an acute crisis and feel in danger of self-harm, call or chat the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255.

Another thing you can do is, go to Google and type: “crisis hotline near me”. This will provide you with a list of various contacts in your area, like local crisis centers, hotlines, etc.

Beacon Advocates are here for you!

As cancer care advocates, our Beacon Advocates team includes nursing specialists and social workers who want to help you. We understand the challenges of your cancer care journey and the connections between mental health and cancer diagnosis. 

Contact us, talk to us, and let’s find the right strategies that work for you!



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