Taking care of your mental health through cancer and COVID-19

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(BPT) - If you are living with cancer or serving as a caregiver, you may have felt the impact of the cancer diagnosis on your mental health. Now, after an extended period of stress and uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s an especially critical time to make sure you are getting the mental and emotional support you need.

Recent studies examining the impact of COVID-19 on people living with cancer and their caregivers found both groups were more likely to report mental health issues, including anxiety and depressive symptoms, compared to adults without cancer and non-caregivers.

“We’ve seen the impact of COVID-19 on those living with cancer through decreased screenings and late diagnoses, and the demand for our practical and emotional support services is greater than ever," says Christine Verini, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of CancerCare, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing support and information to help those affected by cancer. "The calls we receive on our Hopeline have become more intense and we are only beginning to understand the profound impact COVID-19 has had on mental health. It is more important than ever for those living with cancer and their caregivers to get the support they need."

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, there is an opportunity for those living with and caring for those with cancer to come together and not only work toward prioritizing their own mental health, but to encourage others to do the same.

“Our company is dedicated to improving the lives of people impacted by a cancer diagnosis, and we understand that treatment is only one part of that effort to support the patient community,” says Lindsay Treadway, Executive Director, Public Affairs and Advocacy Relations at Exelixis. “We are proud to partner with patient advocacy organizations that provide comprehensive support to people affected by this disease, including resources and critical programs focused on the importance of mental health and wellbeing.”

Here are a few ways to help manage your mental health, as well as information about seeking out support.

Stay informed and set boundaries to manage anxiety

Anxiety can be a major source of distress for those living with cancer. While it’s good to stay informed, it’s also important to make sure you’re consuming information from reliable sources and that you’re not “binging” information in ways that increase anxiety. The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and your local department of public health are all reliable resources that can keep you up to date.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to ask yourself whether your fears are consistent with the information provided by trusted sources. If you find that talking about the pandemic causes increased anxiety, consider limiting check-ins with friends and family where that’s a topic of conversation to one or two times a day. Relaxation techniques and activities, like yoga, meditation and deep breathing exercises, can also be helpful in managing anxiety.

Take care of your whole self

Eat healthy: Diet can make a real difference in your overall mental and emotional well-being. Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist about the foods that are best for you.

Stay active: Even small amounts of exercise, like a daily walk around the block, can make a difference in how you’re feeling. There are many simple routines available online at no cost that can be done at home with no or very little equipment. If you are living with cancer, always check with your doctor first before engaging in more strenuous exercise.

Rest and relaxation: Take breaks to rest and set aside time for activities that bring you joy. If you’re having a difficult time sleeping, be sure to talk to your doctor.

Stay connected: Spend time with friends and family safely in person or take advantage of video-calling and other tools to stay connected even when physically apart from friends and family.

Stay up-to-date on vaccinations: The COVID-19 vaccines offer critical protection that may help increase your peace of mind. The annual flu shot and other routine vaccinations can help you feel more confident knowing you’re doing all you can to protect your health and those around you. For more information, be sure to speak with your doctor.

Find the support you need

From community groups where those living with cancer and caregivers can come together to support one another, to one-on-one counseling (all increasingly available in person and online/telehealth), there are many options available to those looking for mental and emotional support. Organizations such as CancerCare offer counseling and support groups for free, and you can learn more about these services here.

The challenges you’ve faced on your journey are unique, but that doesn’t mean you’re alone. Whether you’re a caregiver or living with cancer, if you’re struggling with your mental or emotional health, reach out. Your friends, family, community, and care team will be there to support you.

Sponsored by Exelixis, Inc.

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