We all know that a cancer diagnosis can be life-changing for everyone. Its impact isn’t just reserved to the physical changes experienced by patients, but also the mental health toll it can have on patients, families, friends, and entire communities. In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, our team at Bag It would like to share some helpful tips for you and your loved ones to ease your journey to survivorship.
Change your environment (even for a short while)
Take a vacation with a loved one. Vacations offer many mental health benefits, including reducing depression and anxiety. Your vacation doesn’t need to be extensive; even a weekend road trip can help reduce stress. A study found that “a short, three-day leisure trip reduced perceived levels of stress and reduced levels of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol.” Another option is to take some time to enjoy nature. A 15-30 minute walk outside offers a chance to get some fresh air and reset. Maybe a stroll at the park or a hike on a trail might do the trick.
Take advantage of support programs in your community
Support groups are a safe, confidential space to share experiences and connect with others navigating similar challenges. They are often available in person or virtual, and you may find one at a local religious group, cancer center, or local cancer nonprofit. Studies have shown that attending a support group can lead to a better quality of life due to improved mood, self-image, and increased coping ability.
Take some time to count sheep
Sleep plays a vital role in how our bodies recover. A lack of adequate sleep has previously been thought to result from depression, but “growing evidence suggests that poor sleep may induce or exacerbate depression.” Inadequate sleep can also lead to anxiety disorders and may become an added source of worry and hyperarousal, which is a key contributor to insomnia. So find a bedtime each day that works for you. Wind down with some relaxation techniques as part of your bedtime routine and maximize comfort with a great mattress, pillow, and bedding. Your body will thank you for it.
Let’s get physical
Exercise offers so many benefits beyond just building muscle and burning calories. Moderate exercise “relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts your overall mood.” No matter your age or fitness level, 30-minutes of moderate exercise five times a week can make a lot of difference. You`ll feel more relaxed and see a change in your self-image. Physical activity is also essential for managing some of the side effects of cancer, including fatigue, weight loss, weight gain, and cardiovascular issues. It also plays a role in survivorship by reducing inflammation and joint pain.
Additional information can be found in the booklet Living Well with Cancer and Beyond. So find a fun activity that works for you, and get started today!
Form your squad
People face so many challenges daily, and these challenges get even more complex after a cancer diagnosis. It’s natural for people to retreat alone and deal in silence, but it’s not always the healthiest route. Find family members or close friends you trust as members of your support network. Social interactions are good for our overall physical and mental health. Cancer doesn’t have to be the focus of every conversation, and you have the right to determine what you feel comfortable sharing with others. A laugh with friends or dinner at your favorite restaurant can also offer a greater sense of well-being and relieves pent-up stress or pain.
Talk to your provider
It’s ok not to be ok. You are not alone. If the challenges around you become overwhelming or you find yourself in a dark place, never be ashamed to seek help. Talk to your provider or find a licensed mental health professional near you. If you have insurance, you can often find a provider in your network by visiting your insurance plan’s website. You can also visit the Bag It Resource Center to find reliable resources.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. They are available 24 hours a day, everyday, Call: 1-800-273-8255 or Text: “HELLO” to 741741
Lifeskills Behavioral Health. 2022. Social Connection & Healthy Activities | Mental Health Well-Being. [online] [Accessed 6 May 2022]
Four reasons to take a vacation. [online] [Accessed 6 May 2022]
Unity Point Health. 2022. 5 Powerful Benefits of Joining a Cancer Support Group (Infographic). [online] [Accessed 6 May 2022]
Suni, E., 2022. Mental Health and Sleep | Sleep Foundation. [online] [Accessed 6 May 2022]