5 Ways To Increase Mental Wellbeing After Cancer.
Updated: Mar 14
A cancer diagnosis and its associated treatment can have a significant emotional impact.
Research shows that one in three people who have experienced cancer will suffer at some point from a mental health problem such as depression, isolation, loss of self-esteem and loss of independence.
The end of cancer treatment sees you leave the ‘safe’ world of your care team, to suddenly be left to go it alone.
It is expected that those finishing cancer treatment should be able to return to ‘normal’, with little or no emotional support provided. This in reality is not the case for the majority of cancer survivors.
According to a report by Mental Health Foundation Scotland:
50% reached an emotional ‘false summit’ at the end of cancer treatment. People were left feeling isolated and abandoned.
49% of people interviewed said they received no support or advice about managing their mental health through cancer.
66% said they were not informed about potential mental health problems that could arise at the end of cancer treatment.
The mental health problems that arise as a result of cancer are too often sidelined and we know that it is difficult to know where to find help to support your post-cancer mental health and wellbeing.
How can I help improve my own mental health and wellbeing after cancer?
Evidence suggests that there are 5 steps to take to improve mental health and wellbeing. Trying these things could help you feel more positive about your life after cancer and enable you to get the most out of life.
1. Connect with other people.
Research indicates that feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need and one that contributes to functioning well in the world. Connecting with others can:
Help you to build a sense of belonging and self-worth.
Allow you to share your experiences.
Provide you with emotional support and allow you to support others.
Ideas to help you connect-
Pick up the phone instead of virtually messaging for that extra connection.
Join a cancer peer support group to share & speak to other like-minded people.
Step away from technology to spend time in person with friends or family.
2. Keep active.
Being active is not only great for your mental welling but it is essential for building back strength and confidence after cancer treatment. Evidence also shows it can also:
Boost your self-esteem.
Create chemical changes in your brain which can help to improve your mood.
Play a part in reducing recurrence risk for certain cancers.
How to increase physical activity-
The NHS safe fit service is designed to support those living with cancer.
Pick an activity that you enjoy! This way, getting moving will not feel like a chore and it will be easier to establish a new habit.
Try the Trekstok free Renew programme, specifically designed to help keep you moving through and beyond cancer.
Take a walk outdoors. Research has shown that vitamin D (from sunlight) might play an important role in regulating mood and helping you feel happier.
Set yourself a goal. If you have always wanted to run or walk 5K, check out the MOVE Charity resources on how to achieve your goals.
3. Keep Learning.
Research shows that learning new skills can also improve your mental wellbeing by:
Boosting self-confidence and raising self-esteem.
Helping you to build a sense of purpose.
Allowing you to connect with others.
Here are some activities to try-
Rediscover an old interest, perhaps something from school that you enjoyed.
Sign up for a course at a local college, library or community centre.
Join a book club. We run an online monthly book club for adults who have finished cancer treatment. It is a great way to share and meet new people.
4. Give to others.
Whether that be your time, patience, words or a smile, these small acts of kindness can have a big impact. You might have experienced these small acts of kindness during or after cancer treatment, and there is a huge benefit for your emotional wellbeing in paying this kindness forward to others.
The act of giving can help improve your mental wellbeing by:
Creating positive feelings and a sense of satisfaction.
Giving you a feeling of purpose and self-worth.
Allowing you to make connections with other people.
From small acts to bigger gestures, some examples to try include-
Smile and say hello to people you pass.
Saying thank you to someone for something they have done for you.
Volunteering in your community or giving back to a service that has offered you help and support (such as a cancer support service or charity).
5. Taking Notice.
Some people call this awareness "mindfulness" and research shows that taking notice can help you enjoy life more. Heightened awareness also helps you to reflect on your experiences, enabling you to take notice of what matters to you (your values and motivations).
Mindfulness practice is a powerful tool for bringing a distracted mind, that might be causing you anxiety, to the here and now.
Ideas for taking notice-
Pay attention to daily tasks you do without much notice- such as making your dinner or brushing your teeth. Your mind will wander but practise bringing the focus back to the task.
Go for a walk without the distraction of technology. Pay close attention to details of the world around you.
How many of us have sat with the distraction of the TV whilst we are eating? Taking time to eat away from distractions allows you to really savour the moment and reconnect with the sensations.
Read more about mindfulness, and how you can take further steps to lead a more mindful existence.
What to do if you need help to manage your mental health and wellbeing after cancer?
You do not have to put up with mental health issues in silence, especially if it is taking a toll on your overall health and wellbeing:
Speak to your medical team or cancer nurse specialist who can look at referring you to specific cancer support services (such as Macmillan).
Contact your GP to discuss the issues you are experiencing.
The NHS website provides resources and signposting for mental health concerns.
Join our free 6 week Life after Cancer programme to increase your mental wellbeing and reduce feelings of isolation.
You can also check out Maggie's resources on emotions after cancer.
Life after Cancer provides those who have finished cancer treatment with access to support groups, workshops or one to one coaching.
We know that connecting with people is beneficial for boosting our mental health, so if you are feeling isolated after cancer and want to connect with others who 'get it', we would love to welcome you to one of our free Life after Cancer events.
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