When dealing with cancer, it is quite common to experience feelings of fear, anxiety, and depression. In fact, 1 in 4 individuals with cancer will experience clinical depression. While it is perfectly normal to worry about the future and feel sadness about such a life-altering, or potentially life-threatening, diagnosis, depression can negatively impact your outlook, ability to follow treatment protocol and, even, survival; therefore, it must be treated right away. The signs of clinical depression include feeling sad or “empty” most of the time, loss of interest in typically enjoyable activities, unintended weight gain or loss, slowed pace, fatigue, altered sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating, feeling worthless or frequently contemplating suicide or death. If you have 5 or more of the above symptoms, lasting 2 or more weeks, you need to seek medical attention right away. Research has proven that an individualized program of interventions such as medication, counseling, supplements and mind-body practice is the most effective treatment for depression, so involving your doctor as soon as possible will help you have the most energy with which to fight cancer.
In a similar vein, feeling fear over cancer and its impact on your life is perfectly normal. When such feelings escalate and turn to anxiety, however, they can sap your strength and severely limit the quality of your life. As is the case with depression, anxiety has symptoms; they include having a worried facial expression, feeling persistent worry, difficulty concentrating or solving problems, increased muscular tension, trembling, restlessness, dry mouth and more frequent angry outbursts.
Since both depression and anxiety have such varied symptoms, their treatment must be individualized. In addition to medication prescribed by your doctor or counseling facilitated by a licensed mental health counselor or psychologist, a wide range of self-care measures can be extremely helpful for both conditions. Numerous research studies have proven the mood-boosting power of exercise; while joining a gym will add another supportive community to your life, simply taking a short walk around your neighborhood will help rebalance your mood and get a good night’s sleep. Similarly, making sure that you eat a nutrient-rich diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables will also help optimize your mood; scientists are only beginning to understand all of the complex interactions between your mood, brain and overall health. Even a short conversation with a friend to vent or laugh can dramatically improve your outlook. If you want to more formally harness the power of the mind-body connection, many practices, such as meditation, Tai Chi and Yoga, have been helping individuals attain better health and improved quality of life for centuries.