How your feelings can affect you physically

You may have noticed physical changes such as difficulty sleeping, a lack of energy or loss of interest in sex. Try not to worry. Although physical changes can be due to the cancer or treatment, many are also caused by your emotions. Physical symptoms are normal and can affect anyone – not only the person diagnosed with cancer.

You may find it difficult to recognise the cause of any physical symptoms. Emotions affect people very differently, so any physical effects you have, may be different from what other people experience.

Sometimes, changes to your diet or routine may help manage your symptoms. You may also try complementary therapies. Therapists can help you to manage individual emotions, which may improve any physical effects.

Try speaking with a counsellor, specialist or doctor if you are finding it difficult to cope.

Physical effects of emotions

The stress of cancer and its treatment can affect your emotions in many ways. Our feelings can affect our energy levels, sexual desire, ability to sleep or appetite. How long these effects last will vary from person to person.

Fatigue (extreme tiredness)

Fatigue is an overwhelming feeling of tiredness or exhaustion. It is very common in people who are anxious or depressed. But it is also a very common side effect of many cancer treatments. This can make it difficult to know what is causing your fatigue, and it is often a bit of both. If you think your tiredness is due to anxiety or depression, you may find that self-help techniques may help.

If your fatigue is due to your cancer or its treatment, you may find our information about coping with fatigue helpful.

Loss of appetite

Anxiety or depression can cause you to lose your appetite. In turn, this may make you lose weight.

Some people just don’t feel hungry, or they feel full soon after starting a meal. Others find that food makes them feel sick, or they notice a change in the taste of some foods.

If your loss of appetite is due to anxiety or depression, you may find our information about coping with depression helpful.

We also have information about diet and cancer. These give helpful advice on:

Loss of interest in sex

You may notice that your interest in sex decreases when you are anxious. You may also lose interest in sex if you’re depressed. People are often reluctant to talk about this very intimate area of their lives, but if you have a partner, it can help to talk to them about how you feel. It may help you both feel more secure if you explain that your lack of interest doesn’t mean a lack of affection.

You may need to focus more on sensuality than sexuality at this time. Using touch can be an important way of telling someone how you feel. It can help you communicate emotions that are not easily expressed in words.

Whether you’re in a relationship or not, cancer and its treatments can affect your sexual identity. Treatments such as surgery or chemotherapy may lead to physical changes that affect your body image. Other aspects of treatment may leave you feeling unattractive or uninterested in sex.

These are very natural and understandable feelings. If you have trouble coping, you may find it helpful to discuss your feelings with a trained counsellor. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the charity Relate provides relationship counselling and offers support by phone and online. In Scotland, you can contact Relationships Scotland. If you feel comfortable, you can also discuss problems with your GP, cancer specialist or clinical nurse specialist. Or if you would prefer to speak to someone over the phone, you may want to call our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

You may find our information on sexuality and cancer helpful in coping with the effects of cancer and its treatment.


Anxiety and depression can change how you feel and react to pain. This means that pain can be harder to bear.

Dealing with your emotions or treating the depression can help reduce your pain, as well as improve your mood. Your doctor or nurse can help you manage both physical and emotional pain. If your pain is due to your cancer or its treatment, you may find our information on controlling cancer pain.

Sleep problems

Many people have trouble sleeping at some point in their life. If you have cancer, you may find it difficult to sleep because of general anxiety, worry about treatment or fears about the future. Some of the following suggestions may help you sleep better. These are examples and other things may work for you.

  • Have a regular routine at bedtime and get up and go to bed at the same time each day.
  • If you can, avoid sleeping during the day.
  • Doing gentle exercise before you go to bed may help you sleep.
  • Avoid caffeinated tea, coffee or cocoa for a few hours before you go to bed. Try a warm, milky, decaffeinated drink instead.
  • Have a warm bath using a relaxing bath soak or a few drops of lavender oil. You could also sprinkle a couple of drops of lavender oil on your pillow.
  • If you can’t sleep or if you wake up early, don’t try so hard to sleep. Instead, try to relax and rest your body.
  • If you find yourself lying awake and feeling anxious, it may help to go to another room for a while and do something else. You could read a book or listen to music or the radio.
  • Keep your bedroom as a relaxing environment and your bed as a place to sleep. It’s fine to spend some time reading before you fall asleep, but avoid watching TV or using a laptop in the bedroom.
  • Switch off bright screens such as TVs, smart phones or computers one hour before going to bed.
  • Make sure your bed is comfortable and cool.
  • If it’s very noisy, try using ear plugs.
  • If streetlights or early morning sunlight affect your sleep, make sure you have thick curtains or blinds, or use an eye mask.

Relaxation CDs, tapes or podcasts can also be very useful for helping you get to sleep. You can also access meditation and relaxation audio files and videos on our Learn Zone website.

We have more information about difficulty sleeping (insomnia).

Back to Managing day-to-day life

Coping with family life and work

It’s important to be realistic about what you can manage. Get help if you’re finding it hard to cope with family life and work.

Tip - asking for help

Try not to feel guilty about asking for help. Support is widely available and can make managing day-to-day life easier.

Lifestyle and diet

Eating well and getting active are positive life choices that improve your health and well-being.