A cancer diagnosis can change a person’s life in many different ways. They may experience changes not only within their body but also in their emotional and psychological state. A cancer diagnosis often presents different challenges: learning about a specific diagnosis, navigating the healthcare system, and managing and fulfilling patient roles while still handling daily responsibilities. Patients may become incredibly stressed and overwhelmed by their circumstances after hearing the “C” word, and this is completely normal. The level of stress and worry a person may experience after receiving a cancer diagnosis can impact their mental health. Patients with cancer, as well as their family members, are clearly at higher risk for psychological distress.
The stress, also known as the fight or flight response, can affect our overall well-being if experienced for prolonged periods of time. “Over the years, researchers have learned not only how and why these reactions occur, but have also gained insight into the long-term effects chronic stress has on physical and psychological health. Over time, repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body,” states a report from Harvard Medical School.1
Mind Over Circumstances
During difficult situations, our attention may narrow to focus on what we are lacking or missing at that time. Our brain may trick us into believing that there is nothing to be grateful for. A useful tip is to remind ourselves to pause daily and acknowledge the good things in our lives. Research shows that people who focus on the good are often able to cope better during difficult times, are more resilient, and have the ability to bounce back faster from traumatic and/or life-changing events.
Several studies have shown the power of our minds, and how positive and negative emotions impact our physical well-being. Thus, our thoughts, either real or imagined, can ultimately influence our immune system. Negative emotions may lower our immunity and put us at risk for more health issues. Consequently, fostering positive emotions may have a positive impact on our overall well-being; therefore, focusing on what is good in our lives can help us shift our attention away from what is missing or lacking and focus instead on what we have. This can improve our mood and strengthen our immune system.
“Gratitude may be defined as an emotion — a temporal state of being grateful for various things in life, such as the presence of beloved people.”2 Gratitude is a tool we have access to every day. Gratitude exercises can help manage the anxiety and worry that comes with a cancer diagnosis and the stress of all the changes and challenges that accompany it.