How your feelings can affect you physically

You may have noticed physical changes such as:

  • a lack of energy
  • loss of appetite
  • loss of interest in sex
  • changes in how you feel about and react to pain
  • difficulty sleeping.

Try not to worry. Although physical changes can be due to the cancer or its treatment, many can also be 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 could also try complementary therapies. Dealing with your emotions can help improve any physical effects. You can do this by:

  • talking to the people close to you about how you feel
  • speaking with a trained counsellor or therapist
  • talking to your GP, cancer specialist or clinical nurse specialist about managing both physical and emotional effects
  • getting support if you think you might have anxiety or depression
  • calling our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

Possible physical symptoms of stress

The stress of cancer and its treatment can affect your energy levels, appetite, sexual desire, reaction to pain and ability to sleep. How long these effects last will vary from person to person. We have information about them all below.

Extreme tiredness (fatigue)

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 tiredness, and it is often a bit of both.

We have self-help ideas that may help if you think the fatigue is due to anxiety or depression. If your tiredness is due to your cancer or its treatment, we have information about coping with fatigue.

Coping with fatigue

Denton describes how he coped with fatigue (tiredness) during his treatment for prostate cancer.

About our cancer information videos

Coping with fatigue

Denton describes how he coped with fatigue (tiredness) during his treatment for prostate cancer.

About our cancer information videos

Loss of appetite

Anxiety or depression can cause you to lose your appetite. In turn, this may make you lose weight. If your loss of appetite is due to anxiety or depression, we have some ideas that may help.

We also have helpful advice on:

Less interest in sex

You may lose interest in sex if you are anxious or depressed. Whether you are heterosexual, gay or bisexual, cancer can affect your relationship and sex life in different ways. People are often reluctant to talk about this very intimate area of their lives. 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 find it helps to focus on being more sensual than sexual. Using touch can be an important way of telling someone how you feel.

You may find it helps 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. The LGBT Foundation offers couples counselling for lesbian, gay and bisexual and trans people.

You can also search for a trained therapist who specialises in sexual problems through the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). This covers England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

If you feel comfortable, you can also discuss problems with your GP, cancer specialist or clinical nurse specialist. They can look at whether it is a side effect of medication and if changes can be made. They may also be able to refer you to a specialist.

If you would prefer to speak to someone over the phone, you can call our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

We have more information about cancer and your sex life, which you may find helpful in coping with the effects of cancer and its treatment. There is information for men and information for women.


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, we have information about managing cancer pain.

I had low-grade pain, but movement made it worse. Swimming distracted me and taking pain relief helped.


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. However, it is very important to try to keep to a normal sleep routine.

Some of the following suggestions may help you sleep better. You may also find other things that work for you.

  • Go to bed and get up at about the same time every day. Having a long lie-in after a sleepless night can lead to a disrupted sleep pattern.
  • Try gentle exercise like walking to help you feel naturally tired and ready for sleep.
  • Keep your mind occupied with activities such as reading, games or puzzles.
  • Get into a relaxing routine before bed. Try reading or listening to soothing music. You could have a warm bath or shower with relaxing oils or burn essential oils such as lavender.
  • Try listening to an audiobook or a relaxation exercise.
  • Relaxation CDs, tapes or podcasts can help you get to sleep. You can access meditation and relaxation audio files and videos by searching for ‘relaxation audio tracks’ on our LearnZone website.
  • Make your bedroom a relaxing place to be in. Create an area that is dark, quiet and comfortable.
  • Avoid large meals and stimulants like caffeine or cigarettes in the late evening. Try having a warm, milky drink before bed.
  • Although a small alcoholic drink can help, too much alcohol can lead to disrupted sleep.
  • Some medicines, for example steroids, can cause sleeplessness. Ask your doctor or nurse if you can take them earlier in the day. They may suggest you take them before 2pm.
  • If you find it difficult to fall asleep or if you wake during the night and can’t get back to sleep, get up and go to another room. Do something else, like reading or listening to music, until you feel tired again.
  • If you find that worries or concerns are keeping you awake, write them down. You can then speak to someone about them later.
  • Be aware of how naps affect you. Some people find that daytime naps help them sleep better at night, while others sleep less well after them.

We have more information about difficulty sleeping (insomnia).

My advice would be to make life easy for yourself whenever possible. Get to bed at a decent hour, get enough sleep and eat well.


Back to Managing day-to-day life

Coping with everyday life

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