What you can do

It can be hard to know what to do when you feel low. Knowing where to start can be especially daunting.

One of the best things to do is to talk about how you feel with someone close to you. Family and friends often know you best and will usually understand your feelings.

It is really important to take care of yourself. Try to eat well and exercise regularly. You may not feel like it at the time, but getting up and dressed each day can really help.

It is normal for your feelings to build up. If you feel like they are getting too much, there are ways to release your tension. Complementary therapies may help you relax, and support groups allow you to share your experiences. Some organisations provide counselling and emotional support, which can help.

It may take a while for you to know what works and what doesn’t. Advice and support is always available if you are finding it difficult to cope.

Taking control

Learning about the cancer and its treatment can give you back some feeling of control. This can help you feel more confident about the future. But it is up to you to decide how much information you would like at any time.

The information can help you when speaking with your doctor, family, friends or work colleagues. It will also help you feel more involved in your care, and more in control.

It will also help if you tell people what you really think and feel. This will help them understand the issues that are important to you. You may also like to write down your hopes and fears.

Reliable sources of information

Your doctors and nurses are in the best position to answer your questions because they know about your situation. If they don’t have the information you are looking for though, there are lots of other reliable sources you can use.

A lot of misleading information is available, and many people still believe myths about cancer. It is important to get information that is up to date and comes from a reliable source.

Our website has information about cancer, cancer treatments and all aspects of living with cancer. It is available in a range of formats. You can also order our information.

We also have details of other organisations that provide reliable information.

Just because you’re going through gruelling treatment doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck in bed for months. You can still have fun and throw on a sequin dress and purple wig!

Lara

It’s all rather confusing for us patients, but my philosophy is to be pragmatic and proactive in getting as much information as possible.

Iain


Healthy eating

Having a balanced diet is one of the best choices you can make for your overall health. Many people find making this positive change helps give them back a sense of control. It can also help you feel that you are doing the best for your health. Thinking about what and how much you drink is part of this too.

Eating well and keeping to a healthy weight will help you maintain or regain your strength, have more energy and increase your sense of well-being. There is no evidence that eating a particular diet can cure a cancer. But a healthy, balanced diet can help reduce the risk of new cancers and other diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

We have more information about healthy eating and cancer, which explains how to have a balanced diet.

I have five portions of veg a day. But I eat meat. I use butter. I drink alcohol. And I do those things in moderation rather than give them up.

Ali


Physical activity

When you are living with or after cancer, becoming more active can be a positive change to make in your life. Evidence shows that physical activity can benefit people affected by cancer in several ways. Being active before, during and after treatment can:

  • reduce tiredness and some treatment side effects
  • reduce anxiety and depression
  • improve your mood and quality of life
  • strengthen your muscles, joints and bones
  • look after your heart and reduce the risk of other health problems.

Physical activity encourages the brain to produce chemicals (endorphins) that improve mood and reduce stress. It will also help you feel more in control, because you are doing something positive for yourself.

Being active with other people can really help. You could exercise with family or friends. Or you could join a cancer rehabilitation programme and exercise with other people who understand what you are going through. It can also help to be active outdoors somewhere green, such as a park. You could try gardening or joining a walking group.

Our information about physical activity and cancer explains more about the benefits of being active and how to get started.

I find exercise is extremely helpful for body and mind. It doesn’t need to be a marathon or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Speed, height and distance aren’t important – the direction is.

Ronny


Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness is a form of meditation. It is about paying attention to what is happening in the present moment. You are encouraged to become aware of your thoughts and feelings, without making judgements about them. It can help you change the way you think about different experiences. This can help to reduce stress and anxiety.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) are evidence-based mindfulness programmes. MBCT was developed to support people in chronic pain and has been used in cancer support. MBCT is usually taught as an eight-week course, either in groups or individually. You can learn MBCT online with Be Mindful. You can complete the introductory session for free before you decide whether to purchase the course.

Mindfulness classes are also available from the following places:

  • The NHS runs mindfulness classes. Ask your doctor about what is available in your area or at your hospital.
  • Mind runs courses at centres throughout England and Wales.
  • The Buddhist Centre runs classes in England, Scotland and Wales.
  • Aware is the national depression charity for Northern Ireland. It runs courses in mindfulness – search for ‘mindfulness’ on its website.
  • Kara is a free web resource that introduces mindfulness meditation to people with cancer.
  • Private practitioners run mindfulness classes. Be Mindful has details of certified mindfulness teachers on its website.

You can learn more from the Mental Health Foundation's information about how to look after your mental health using mindfulness.


Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies are used alongside conventional medical treatments. People use them to boost their physical or emotional health. They can also be used to relieve symptoms or side effects. Some therapies have been scientifically tested to check how effective and safe they are. Complementary therapies do not claim to cure cancer.

There are many types of complementary therapy, including:

  • acupuncture
  • aromatherapy
  • visualisation
  • homeopathy
  • reflexology.

Always check with your doctor if you are thinking of using a complementary therapy.

Some hospitals and hospices provide complementary therapies alongside conventional cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Some support groups also offer complementary therapies. Complementary therapies may help you:

  • feel better and improve your quality of life
  • feel less stressed, tense and anxious
  • sleep better
  • feel more in control
  • relieve some of your cancer symptoms
  • relieve the side effects of your cancer treatment.

Our information about cancer and complementary therapies explains the different types of therapy and how to use them safely.

Complementary therapies to me mean a bit of indulgence, massage, “me time”.

Pat


Self-help and support groups

Joining a self-help or support group can have many benefits. These groups offer a chance to talk to other people who may be in a similar situation to you, and who may be facing the same challenges.

Not everyone finds talking in a group easy. It may help to go along to see what the group is like and then make a decision. We have information about support groups and how to find one in your area. You can also ask a member of your healthcare team about what support is available locally. Our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00 can also help you find local groups.


Other things that may help

Releasing tension

Tension can often be released by talking to people. That may be:

Sometimes you may feel like everything is getting too much for you. If you feel this way, try thumping a cushion or pillow, turning the radio or CD player up very loud, or screaming. Having a good cry can also help release emotions. These things won’t do anyone any harm and they may leave you feeling much better.

You may find it helps to write down how you feel. Keeping a diary or journal may help you express your fears and worries, without having to talk them through with other people.

You could also express yourself through drawing, painting, playing music or another creative hobby.

Recording feelings

You may find it helpful to use a person-centred thinking tool from the Think About Your Life website. The tools were developed by cancer survivors. There are two that might help you record your feelings:

  • There is a table you can use to write about your good and bad days. This may help you decide on steps you can take to have more good days.
  • There is a table you can use to write about your hopes and fears. There is also space for you to think about the next steps you could take to manage your concerns.

The website has examples, stories and support to help you use the tools.

Changing priorities

Cancer often causes people to think about their lives and their priorities. Some people make big changes to their lives, such as changing their job. Or some start a new hobby to meet people. Doing something new and different may also help you feel better.

Avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs

It may feel good at first to have a few drinks or take recreational drugs to help you forget how you are feeling. However, this is only a short-term solution. Alcohol and drugs can cause problems and damage relationships with family or friends. In the long-term, alcohol and recreational drugs may seriously damage your health.

Taking recreational drugs can also change the effect of some painkillers, so your doctor or nurse may ask you about this. It is important to be open with them about using these drugs.


Practical everyday tips

If you are finding it difficult to manage your feelings, it can help to take things one day at a time and not look too far ahead. You may find that life gets easier to cope with as time passes. Doing even the smallest tasks may help you feel better:

  • If you can, get up and dressed every day.
  • Try to eat well every day. If you have eating problems or a poor appetite, talk to your doctor or nurse.
  • Try to exercise regularly.
  • Keep to a regular sleeping pattern if you can.
  • Stay in contact with your family and friends.
  • Share your feelings with someone close or a professional.
  • Accept offers of help and ask people for support.
  • Find some time for yourself every day when you can fully relax.
  • Make plans to do things you enjoy to give yourself something to look forward to.
  • Give yourself small goals to achieve.
  • Celebrate your successes, however small.
  • Recognise when you are feeling run down and stressed. If you feel like this, see your doctor for advice.
  • If you feel unwell, get some extra rest and don’t delay seeing your doctor.

The Mental Health Foundation also has information on how to look after your mental health.

Back to Dealing with your emotions

Cancer and your feelings

There are lots of emotions to deal with when you have cancer. We can help you work through them.

Feeling alone

People with cancer often feel lonely or isolated. There are ways to manage these feelings.

Coping with depression

Depression can be difficult to recognise, so try not to ignore your feelings. Help is always available.