Everyone faces stress from time to time, but a cancer diagnosis can be particularly challenging for both the patient and the family members.
“For many of our patients and survivors, they experience a great deal of stress related to their diagnosis, treatment, or fears of recurrence,” says Eric Zhou, PhD, clinical psychology fellow at Dana-Farber’s Perini Family Survivors’ Center. “But they also have general life stresses on top of that, like family, finances, and work, that don’t go away just because they’re battling cancer.”
Zhou, who leads Dana-Farber’s Survivor Stress Management and Relaxation Training (SMART) workshops, provides some tips on how to handle stress during cancer treatment:
1. List your stresses. Write down all the stressors in your life so you know, specifically, what issues you are facing. It is easy to tackle each stress point if you know exactly what they are, rather than feeling as though you have to take them all on at once.
2. Involve your family and friends. Many people believe that no one can help them with their problems. It’s important to make your family, friends, coworkers, and medical team aware of what you’re going through. Often they can help answer questions and help you find solutions for your stress list.
3. Make SMART goals. When you are trying to tackle stressors, make goals that are specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, and have a time frame. Stay away from general goals and set tasks you know you can complete. For example, aim to attend yoga class at least once a week, or answer five emails before lunchtime.
4. Take some “me” time. Many patients and survivors are used to taking care of families, spouses, or tasks at work. However, it’s important to set aside some time that is just for you. Ask yourself when the last time was that you truly had “me” time. You could try leaving for an appointment an hour early to give yourself time to make a stop at a favorite coffee shop, store, or park.
5. Avoid negative coping behaviors. Some people turn to food, alcohol, caffeine, or tobacco to cope with stress. In reality, these behaviors just help you avoid dealing with problems and can actually exacerbate the stress.
The Adult Survivorship Program at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC) helps survivors cope with stress and learn relaxation techniques through its new Survivor SMART! program, a free 4-week, iPad-based class. To learn more about these courses, email firstname.lastname@example.org.