These are trying times for everyone. As we move into uncharted territory created by the coronavirus pandemic, it is normal for the average person to experience fearful thoughts. Add to the mix fears that are ever present for those with a cancer diagnosis and you have a formula for anxiety.
Anxiety is classically defined as an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear, often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate) by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.* (Source: Merriam Webster Dictionary Online)
It is important to recognize and acknowledge what you are experiencing, but also to not let yourself be overwhelmed by these feelings.
Can I stop feeling so anxious?
By utilizing a set of self-care tools, you can diminish these symptoms.
1. Recognize the symptoms. Ask yourself if what you are feeling is outside of the normal anxious feelings you might have on a daily basis (mild stomach upset before a stressful event, feeling jittery or nervous, experiencing minor diarrhea).
2. Question the symptoms. Ask yourself if the symptoms you are experiencing are new, or are they related to the current health crisis?
3. Seek support. Talk to a friend or family member. Reach out to an online support group like GIST Chat. Sometimes talking with someone is enough to reduce the level of anxiety.
4. Identify your triggers. Are you more anxious after watching the news? Are there people in your circle of family and friends who trigger your fears with their words?
5. Take stock. Be sure you are reacting to “real” situations. Is the information you are consuming from a reliable source?
6. Set time limits on social media and news viewing in order to avoid feeding anxiety. Constantly plugging in to ‘news’ can exacerbate feelings of loss of control and despair, and social isolation.
7. Be sure you are practicing good “medicine”. Get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, remain hydrated, do activities that give you joy. Find time each day to connect with others. Even in this time of social distancing, there are meaningful ways to connect.
8. Find things you can control. So much about this pandemic are out of our control. Loss of control is anxiety producing. For example: Stick to a normal schedule, maintain your normal daily activities. Design a routine. Making a schedule for yourself for daily activities – ie, waking, showering, mealtimes, exercise, social media, talking with family and friends, will help to ground you, giving you a feeling of control and choice.
9. Prepare a plan to stay in contact with medical support. Prepare information on the procedures to follow if you show signs of the virus, including a list of phone numbers and websites for your medical providers and for reliable information. Find out if there are telemedicine services available to you.
10. Exercise to reduce stress. Many stress-reducing activities can be viewed online and practiced in your home or outdoor areas. Yoga, meditation, tai chi, and physical exercise are proven to reduce stress and raise your levels of serotonin (a natural “Feel-good” chemical in your body).
11. Experience beauty in a form you love. Listen to music, do something creative, keep busy, dance around the house, try a new recipe, make a phone call to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, write letters, journal, sing.
If the your symptoms escalate, even after using some of these tools, seek medical attention. There are effective medications available, and they may be advised for short-term use.
Find more detailed information on anxiety and depression.
Coping With Emotional Side Effects From GIST
Fighting Anxiety & Depression on Your GIST Journey
Meditation Can Be a Powerful Tool for Relieving Anxiety for Cancer Patients
Know that the Life Raft Group Staff is always here to support you.
Remember, we are on this Life Raft together. We continue to be here for you when you need us.
Here are additional resources to help you get through the days ahead:
American Cancer Society. Anxiety, Fear and Depression, Having Cancer Affects Your Emotional Health – Emotional, Mental Health, and Mood Changes
American Psychiatric Association.Diagnostic and Statistical manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth Edition. American Psychiatric Association, Arlington, VA. 2013 National Cancer Institute – Depression (PDQ®)–Patient Version
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Talk Saves LivesTM: An Introduction to Suicide Prevention
Calm app: calm.com Source of meditation and visualizations to relive stress.
Breathe app: Available on iPhone and Android systems.
YouTube: youtube.com There are hundreds of yoga, meditation, and calming music videos available.
Trusted resources for information on COVID-19
American Society for Clinical Oncologists ASCO Coronavirus Resources
American Cancer Society Common Questions About the New Coronavirus Outbreak
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Cases in U.S. (updated daily M-F)
Dana Farber Institute Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information for Patients and Families
A cancer diagnosis has a significant impact on patients, caregivers and their families. It is normal for someone diagnosed with GIST to feel a whole host of emotions ranging from anger to fear, sadness and anxiety about the future. It is important, however, to be able to differentiate between the normal range of emotions and clinical symptoms of depression and anxiety, which require swift intervention.
If you or your loved one have any of these symptoms, notify a treatment professional or reach out to a support hotline such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of hurting yourself
- Lack of interest in normal activities
- Unable to sleep or sleeping excessively
- Strong emotional states that interfere with daily activities
- Severe fatigue or loss of energy
- Mental confusion or a diminished ability to think or concentrate