Stress Awareness Month: Coping with Covid-19 and Cancer

Published: 08 Apr 2020

In the UK, April is Stress Awareness Month.  No matter where you live in the world, the Covid-19 pandemic means we are all living in unsettling times. Advice varies from country to country and state to state, but many of us find ourselves on lockdown, isolating with family or maybe alone.  This daunting new world will inevitably increase our levels of anxiety, regardless of our health. But if you are fighting cancer, it may seem like you’ve been served a double whammy of stress to cope with. 

The Chemotherapy Support Group, set up to help connect people fighting cancer, has been awash with members expressing their concerns and fears.  Many people are worried whether or not their treatment will continue, others are anxious about getting access to food and medicine especially if they’re being advised not to go out, and of course, there is a very real fear of contracting the virus itself. 

If you are one of the many people fighting cancer you have probably been told you are in a ‘high risk’ group. There is much information available online, from governments, charities and other credible organizations - and we would advise you to check these websites for the latest information relevant to your area.   Stay in close contact with your healthcare team for their recommendations as well as finding out about treatment and appointments where you live.

There’s no point us repeating this advice. Instead, we will focus on trying to help you control your stress and anxiety levels, so you can stay in control of your emotions and stop them from spiralling out of control.

Stay connected

Many of us have been told to stay at home and isolate to protect ourselves and also the health service, so it doesn’t become overwhelmed. We are told this could potentially continue for weeks or even months! Isolation is a difficult concept for human beings to cope with and can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.  We are social animals, and especially at times of difficulty and illness, we automatically seek solace from one another.  

But just because you need to isolate physically, it doesn’t mean you can’t stay connected. Reach out to family members, friends and colleagues regularly via phone, text, FaceTime, WhatsApp or other virtual platforms. Try to build up a network of people you can connect to regularly. Use conferencing platforms to set up a virtual onscreen get-together – such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, or Google Hangouts. All are easy to download and use and provide step by step instructions, and the most basic packages are normally free.

If you’re not already on it, now is a good time to get delve into the world of social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok. Follow friends and find new ones, join a group depending on your interests, chat with likeminded people and have a giggle at some of the fun and crazy content people are posting. And if you feel like it, create your own video and post. You never know, you might become the next viral internet sensation!

And on a serious note, stay in close contact by phone and email with your medical team so they can keep you up to speed and offer advice on any medical questions or worries you have at this time. 

Avoid constantly watching the news 

If you stay glued to the news channel or keep checking your phone every 10 minutes, your anxiety levels will go through the roof.  These days the news is a 24-hour event, and every news channel is seeking to win more viewers from their competitors – and unfortunately, we are drawn to the more sensational headlines often spelling out doom and gloom for everyone.  Stay away, check the facts from a reputable website or news channel just once a day and then go and do something else instead. But watch out for misinformation – there is a lot of ‘fake-news’ currently doing the rounds. Instead, banish those bad thoughts by creating a personal haven of calm and positivity in your own home. 

Catch up on a Netflix box set or a watch good film, connect with old friends online, join the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group and find some new ones or turn your hand to something creative.

Do something creative

Doing something creative provides an outlet for stress.  It takes your mind away from the stresses and strains of life and gives you a sense of calm as you focus your attention on the creative project in hand.  Choose from any number of things – draw a picture, write a story, decorate a cake, make bunting out of old clothes or fabric, bake some cookies, order a candle making kit, make some jewelry,  plant some seeds and watch them sprout, press some flowers from your garden to make a picture or gift cards or even re-design or decorate your home.  Trawl through Google – there any number of things you can do without the need to step foot outside your front door.

Organise yourself

As the days roll into one another, it can be easy to lose the motivation to get up and keep going with a positive frame of mind.  Being organized helps calm the mind.  Therefore, whilst the world battles the virus, it’s important that you add some order to the things you can control to avoid a build up of stress.  Routine is key – don’t languish in bed all day, set yourself a regular timetable and give yourself a reason to get up. Make a list of things you need to do, clear out messy draws and cupboards, re-organise your wardrobe and bag up clothes you don’t wear anymore or go through the pile of paperwork you’ve been meaning to do for ages.  Stay on top of your meds – ensure you have a good supply and don’t leave it until the last minute to order more.  

Keep eating healthy food

Don't give in to the temptation of sugary and fatty foods. Stress can adversely affect your eating habits and metabolism. The best way to combat stress or emotional eating is to be mindful of what triggers stress eating and to be ready to fight the urge. A healthy balanced diet will nourish your body, arming yourself nutritionally to help you handle your stress and stay strong and well. Keep some low-fat low sugar snacks on hand in case you get the munchies, use your time in isolation to experiment with new dishes packed full of veg and other nutritious ingredients, ramp up on herbs and spices to give dishes extra flavor. 

Check these articles containing some yummy recipe ideas:

Chicken soup and other delicious comforting recipes
Fruit and veg smoothies for chemo patients
4 great nutrient-rich breakfast ideas
6 sensational smoothie recipes to kick chemo into touch

Keep exercising

You might be stuck in, but that doesn’t mean you should stop exercising.  While gyms are closed and social distancing guidelines are in place, for many of us it’s still possible to get out for in some aerobic exercise, like walking, cycling, or playing with your kids or pets.  This will help release endorphins (natural substances that help you feel better and maintain a positive attitude) as well as giving you a dose of natural Vitamin D. 

There are also many different forms of exercise you can do in the comfort of your own home. You’ll find plenty of exercise classes to follow online for all ages and abilities. Joe Wicks, a UK based fitness guru, is currently holding 30-minute PE lessons Monday to Friday at 9 am live on YouTube to both exercises your body and calm your mind - and it’s easy to do by yourself and suitable for all the family. If you’re located in the US or any other country you can catch up online via his YouTube channel The Body Coach TV.  

Yoga is also a fantastic way to exercise and calm your mind – again look online, you’re sure to find a tutorial that suits your level. Or play some music and have a boogie around your home.

Other articles you might find useful:

Benefits of yoga for cancer patients
Top tips for exercising during chemotherapy
The power of music

Keep smiling

Laughter is the perfect antidote to stress, anxiety, and depression so banish the blues by finding something that makes you smile.  There's a very good reason to turn a frown into a smile – even if you have to fake it. Science has shown that the mere act of smiling can lift your mood, lower stress, boost your immune system and possibly even prolong your life. Find out more - How a smile can trick your brain into happiness

Sleep well

Stress and anxiety are not great when you're trying to sleep. Your body feels exhausted but your brain just won’t switch off.  Hopefully, some of our suggestions above will help calm your mind. It’s especially important now to get the recommended amount of sleep to help manage the stress and stay healthy so you can keep fighting cancer. To help get a good night’s sleep, avoid drinking stimulants like alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, especially just before bedtime. Try setting yourself a routine before you go to bed, play some calming music or a guided relaxation to drift off too.  You’ll find more information in our article Top tips to a good night’s sleep on chemo.

Above all keep yourself safe.

We hope that some of these suggestions will help you to manage your stress levels and help you cope with the strange world we find ourselves in right now. But if you are not able to manage your anxiety or depression on your own, it is very important to contact your medical team to ask for their advice.

For more top tips and info we have many other interesting articles that you may enjoy and find useful

Look after your mental health: how to cope with cancer 
How meditation can help you cope with a cancer diagnosis
Complementary therapies and cancer

If you are struggling with your anxiety at the time or can offer advice and support to others, join the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group.  The group consists of over 7,000 people from across the world, most of whom are fighting cancer right now.

Penguin Cold Cap Therapy

Penguin Cold Caps are the original inventors of modern cold cap therapy; the drug-free, non-invasive and most successful method for reducing chemotherapy-induced hair loss. 

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