If you are living with metastatic breast cancer, you may be dealing with an increase in physical, mental, or emotional stress. In fact, one study found that more than 78 percent of women with breast cancer reported feeling stressed. Additionally, those with advanced disease were more likely to experience moderate to severe stress, depression, and anxiety.
Among other negative effects, stress can take a toll on your immune system. If engaging in stress-reduction techniques is low on your current list of priorities, consider integrating it into your overall health care plan.
Experiencing emotional changes such as stress and anxiety during the metastatic breast cancer journey is completely normal. However, if stress is getting in the way of having a positive quality of life, or if you want an extra edge in your fight against cancer, consider some techniques to help improve your emotional well-being.
Learn more about improving your quality of life after undergoing breast cancer treatment.
It’s not always intuitive how your mental and emotional well-being connect to your physical health and disease progression. However, the connection between psychological and physical health has been a hot topic of scientific research over the past few years.
Almost every cell in your body has receptors for stress hormones — that is how pervasive and important they are. A 2019 study suggested that chronic psychosocial stress — such as emotional or mental stress — can lead to more immune suppression and inflammation. This, in turn, can increase the progression of cancer and decrease quality of life. Chronic inflammation is a major factor in the initiation, progression, and metastasis of tumors.
Once you understand how stress can affect your physical health, you may want to know what steps you can take to reduce it. First, it is important to take a moment to reflect on what kind of stress you’re experiencing: chronic or acute.
Chronic stress may be an ongoing difficulty you face throughout your metastatic breast cancer treatment journey. Worries about the future, your job, and your loved ones, on top of your health concerns, may make you feel chronically stressed.
One MyBCTeam member summed up the idea of chronic stress: “On the one hand, you have this serious illness … wherever you are in the process of getting past it. Then, on the other hand, you have life pressures, be it financial, children, work, other family problems, etc. … The stress of all of it can be overwhelming at times. Stuff keeps getting thrown at us continually and seems relentless.”
Acute stress, on the other hand, is often more intense and concentrated over a shorter period of time, before subsiding. For example, if you have an upcoming appointment, have just received bad news about your diagnosis or treatment, or are experiencing new side effects from a medication, you may feel acutely stressed until you have some next steps laid out.
“I’m having my yearly MRI tomorrow morning,” wrote one MyBCTeam member. “There is always so much stress and outright fear when I go for this.”
Knowing which kind of stress you are experiencing can help you understand how to deal with it. Chronic stress may require a more long-term, consistent approach, whereas acute stress may drive you to focus on finding a solution to one particular problem.
The strategy that will best help you relieve stress will depend on your own personal circumstances, but there are a few techniques you might want to consider as your work toward a stress-reduction plan.
Social support is a vital component of coping with stress and anxiety. This could mean connecting with friends, family members, mentors in your community, or support groups — online or otherwise. Whether the social support you receive is formal or informal, it can improve your quality of life.
“Today has been wonderful. Stress-free and filled with love,” shared one MyBCTeam member with their network. “Been hanging out with my parents all week. My surgery date was changed, but I’m ready for when the new date comes.”
In addition to being a great anxiety-reducing technique, getting regular exercise can help you feel more in control of your body and reduce fatigue. Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
Learn more about the causes of fatigue in breast cancer and ways to manage it.
Practicing mindfulness can also be a good technique for dealing with stress. While you can use a more structured practice, like mindfulness-based stress reduction, you can also practice mindfulness in your own way by taking a moment in your day-to-day life to slow down and note the environment around you.
One MyBCTeam member described their experience: “I am out enjoying the outdoors today. Chilly morning with coffee listening to all the sounds nature has to offer.”
Even if you’ve never considered it before, reaching out to a professional counselor for support can be a great way to help you reduce your stress levels. Having someone to guide you along on your journey can make you feel less alone, and it can take the onus of planning your stress reduction methods off of yourself.
Some people may benefit from one-on-one or group traditional psychotherapy, or talk therapy, while others may be more interested in cognitive behavioral therapy.
“I’m seeing a therapist— it’s hard!” one MyBCTeam member wrote. “Not to talk to the therapist, but to feel these feelings. Even with the help of medication, I still suffer. It’s so challenging.”
Being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer can be a life-altering experience, and it is perfectly valid to feel anxious and stressed about how to move forward.
Learning and practicing techniques to keep your stress levels at bay may serve your health well, both emotionally and physically. Like your journey with metastatic breast cancer itself, your goal of stress reduction will also likely have its ups and downs, but taking care of your mental well-being is a worthy investment in the long run.
Learn some other techniques for reducing stress and improving your life when living with metastatic breast cancer.
MyBCTeam is the social network for people with breast cancer and their loved ones. On MyBCTeam, more than 56,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with breast cancer.
Have you experienced stress during your metastatic breast cancer journey? Share your experiences in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.