Take Care of Your Emotional Well-Being After a Cancer Diagnosis

Woman coping with cancer

A cancer diagnosis is a life-changing event, and it can affect patients as well as their caregivers. At University of Missouri Health Care’s Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, our doctors, nurses and staff provide the most advanced and personalized care, and that includes attending to emotional well-being.

Dana Kee, MSW, an Ellis Fischel social worker, has adapted tips on coping in the aftermath of a cancer diagnosis*. 

Stay connected

Stay involved in social activities. If there’s a support group available, attend a session to see if it helps you. “Look for support from people you trust, who make you feel safe and cared for,” Kee said.

If it feels good…

To feel more like your old self, do activities you enjoyed before your diagnosis. Kee suggests making a “wellness toolbox” of quick activities that boost positive feelings.

  • Spend time in nature
  • Read a book
  • Watch a funny movie
  • Listen to your favorite music
  • Take a bath
  • Play with a pet
  • Visit with friends in person
  • Write down what you like about yourself
  • Cross a few to-do items off your list
  • Do something spontaneous 

It can also be helpful to get enough sleep and practice mindfulness activities such as meditation or prayer. If you didn’t practice mindfulness before your diagnosis, Kee recommends using an app such as Aura, Calm or Headspace to help you get started. 

Change your thinking 

To break the cycle of negative thoughts, Kee suggests asking yourself these questions:

  • Is there an alternative explanation to this situation?
  • What is the evidence that this thought is true or untrue?
  • How might I look at this situation if I wasn’t depressed?

Make sure to move

Exercise triggers the release of endorphins, which can help lift your mood, so developing an exercise routine can help you feel better. Your fatigue and motivation will improve if you stick to your routine. The goal is to exercise for 30 minute each day. 

“Try exercises like walking, bike riding or swimming that have a rhythmic motion,” Kee said. “It’s easier to stick with it if you have an exercise partner. Even your dog counts.”

Get outside

Sunlight enhances mood, so it’s good to get outside when you can. 

“There are some simple ways to get your daily dose of sunlight,” Kee said. “Take your lunch and eat outside. When you’re exercising, choose something that lets you be outside, like a walk. Consider opening the blinds or curtains at your house to let the natural light shine in and try sitting near a window when you’re able.”

Eat healthy

Start by not skipping any meals. Kee suggests foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and nuts, and Vitamin B, such as red meat, seeds, nuts and dark green vegetables. Avoid too many refined carbohydrates and sugar. 

*For additional tips, please visit Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand or Help Guide.

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