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Coping With Stress During Breast Cancer

Develop Some Stress Coping Skills


Updated February 07, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Before being diagnosed with breast cancer, you were already coping with stress. Daily activities, as well as show-stopping life events, can bring on short-term and chronic stress. Add to this the shock of a breast cancer diagnosis, followed by surgery, chemo, and radiation, and you've got a prize-winning stress load. You are not stuck with this stress, however, because there are many ways of coping with it.

Name That Stress - Pick A Stress Coping Strategy
Breast cancer brings on particular kinds of stress as you learn more about your diagnosis, make decisions about treatments, and anticipate changes in your body. As you start treatment, you may find yourself distracted by many new concerns. Thoughts about your family and your future health jostle for attention as you keep medical appointments and try to keep up with daily commitments. Take some time to identify the sources of your stress, and make your stress coping strategy match your stressor. Dr. Margaret Lewin of Cinergy Health offers a list of common stressors as well as some suggestions for coping with breast cancer stress.

Common Breast Cancer Stressors and Stress Coping Strategies

  • Body Image: Get help for body image concerns from family, friends and your doctor's staff. Make changes in your wardrobe and hairstyle to brighten your self-image. Attend a Look Good Feel Better makeover session.

  • Busy Schedule: Scan your schedule and eliminate the unnecessary (or most difficult) tasks. Delegate chores and errands to family or friends. Build in time for yourself, such as calming rituals, journaling, or gentle exercise.

  • Fatigue: Give yourself permission to rest, whether it's taking short naps, meditating, or just going to bed earlier and sleeping later at times. If fatigue persists, talk to your doctor.

  • Physical Discomfort: Take a friend or family member with you for any unpleasant appointments or treatments, using distraction to relieve your discomfort. Learn to meditate, listen to music, play games, or make positive conversation to help reduce your stress.

  • Blues and Depression: Feeling depressed is very common in breast cancer patients, so please get help - whether from a professional, friends, family, religious community or a support group. Consider giving your time to a local charity -- doing a volunteer activity can really lift your spirits.

  • Loneliness: Many people feel isolated by a breast cancer diagnosis. Break out by finding a local support group you can attend, or join an online support forum. You do not have to take this journey alone.

  • Your Physical Health: Make smart choices for your diet -- get plenty of fiber and protein from anti-cancer foods. Avoid junk food, alcohol, and tobacco. Work with a trainer or physical therapist to build physical strength and flexibility.

  • Your Future: Be optimistic, looking past the current therapy to learn a new skill, plan a trip, or whatever it takes to give you incentive to push ahead every day. Decide to use hope instead of fear as your motivation.

Handling New Survivor Stress

The first year of recovery can be stressful, primarily because - for all its difficulties - cancer treatment gives you the sense of doing something active to fight your cancer. You've had a team of medical professionals working with you, paying attention to your symptoms, treatments, and progress.

When you graduate from primary treatment and move on to follow-up appointments, many patients feel a bit lost. The routine and schedule of treatment fades away, and you must get a new focus and set up a new schedule. Do something that adds a new dimension to your life by building a new skill, getting active in the community, exercising, and spending more time with your family and friends. Use your new stress reduction skills to take you into your healthy future.


Personal correspondence with Margaret Lewin, MD, FACP, Medical Director, Cinergy Health, November 5, 2009.

Social Isolation Dysregulates Endocrine and Behavioral Stress While Increasing Malignant Burden of Spontaneous Mammary Tumors. Hermes GL, Delgado B, Tretiakova M et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, December 7, 2009.

Psychological Stress and Cancer: Questions and Answers. National Cancer Institute. Reviewed: 04/29/2008.

Stress and Your Health: Frequently Asked Questions. WomensHealth.gov, Office on Women's Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Last updated August 1, 2005.

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