Women doing yoga.

Cancer treatments can definitely have a physical impact on the body during and after treatments. But did you know that they can also affect the way someone thinks and feels? For many, it’s normal to experience a range of side effects during treatment that can linger for months and sometimes years after treatments end. In addition, there are a myriad of emotions associated with a cancer diagnosis – such as stress and anxiety. For some, these feelings can also cause even more physical and emotional disorders like chronic fatigue and depression.

Many cancer survivors experience stress after cancer diagnosis and following cancer treatment. While there is no research that stress actually causes cancer, we do know that stress causes other health problems. “Sustained stress hormones, over a long period of time, may even damage our body on a cellular and molecular level. And, we are just beginning to explore how the mind and body works in relation to our emotional states,” said Teri Hoenemeyer, Ph.D., the director of Education and Supportive Services at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

It’s important to have ways to cope with and reduce stress. Many cancer survivors find that spending time participating in activities they enjoy can help them feel calm or relaxed. “Often, patients will say that they feel disconnected from their bodies, their emotions, and even their relationships with others after a cancer diagnosis,” said Hoenemeyer. “Engaging in activities that are comforting and meaningful to patients helps them become more introspective and aware of just how much the stress of their disease and treatment can impact how they feel. Once aware, they can then recognize triggers so they can cope and manage better.” Some of the suggestions Hoenemeyer provides for managing and coping with stress include:

  • Exercise is a common way to reduce stress—whether you have had cancer or not. Exercise can be as simple as a walk down your street or walking with a friend or neighbor for 30 minutes. Check with your healthcare provider before exercising, it is important not to overdo yourself and your body.
  • Mind-Body Techniques refer to activities such as meditation, breathing techniques, or gentle yoga intended to lower your stress level and calm your mind and body. These can be done at-home and whenever you are experiencing stress.
  • Creative Outlets include art, music, or dance and gives people a chance to express themselves. You do not need to have experience with art, music, or dance to participate in these activities and have fun doing them. They can be done at home or by participating in a class offered in your community.

All of these activities are great ways for you and your loved ones to reduce stress after cancer. Rehabilitation of the mind and body is an important part of recovery.