Stress, Cancer and Wellbeing

Stress, Cancer and Wellbeing

Stress can manifest in many physical and emotional ways, and these symptoms can exacerbate health problems a person may already have from cancer or its treatments. For instance stress can cause:

  • irritability
  • headaches
  • diarrhoea
  • sweating
  • restlessness and sleeping problems
  • fatigue
  • appetite changes
  • concentration and memory problems
  • anxiety and depression


Many of these symptoms are also caused by cancer or can be side effect of its treatments. So stress can potentially exacerbate these cancer symptoms, which in turn can make it more difficult to manage cancer treatments. This causes more stress and the two – illness symptoms and stress – start to feed off each other, leaving a person trapped in a cycle of stress and exacerbated illness.  Stress also reduces the effectiveness of your immune system so not only are your symptoms worse but your ability to fight the disease is as well.

Try these tips to manage your stress levels:

  1. Spend time in nature – reconnecting with nature is a powerful way of bringing you back to what really matters. We get so caught up in our world of bricks, mortar and technology that we forget the calming power of sun, air and the land. Spending even 5 minutes outside with a cup of tea, walking or just sitting and being present really can decrease your stress.
  2. Relaxations –It almost sounds too easy to be true but daily relaxations not only lower your stress but also teach you to notice when you are becoming stressed in the first place. The Cancer Council have a great relaxation CD, but if you’ll be able to find plenty online as well.
  3. Breathing –As we get stressed our breathing becomes less efficient. This in turn reduces the supply of oxygen to the blood, which then affects the functionality of the whole body. Many people breathe quite shallowly into their chest. Try this exercise instead.
    • Place your hands on your belly.
    • Breathe in slowly and gentle and feel your belly expand; breathe out at a comfortable but slow pace and feel the belly contract. This is abdominal breathing uses about 75% of your lung capacity – easily enough to start calming your nervous system and reducing your stress.
    • Try doing 5 deep, slow abdominal breaths throughout your day and notice the difference.
  4. Watch your thoughts – we have thousands of thoughts running through our head in a day but some just cause more stress. Worries about the family or future are important but can easily become tapes that play over and over in your mind. Try to catch these repetitive unhelpful thoughts, breath in, breath out and ask yourself if these thoughts are helpful to you or not. If they continue to cause trouble see a psychologist, psychotherapist or counsellor for help.
  5. Meditation – Meditation both calms the nervous system and also can help you learn to defuse from your mind’s unhelpful chatter. You’ll find plenty of free meditation tracks online to help you get started
  6. Pace yourself wisely. Many people with cancer or other illnesses keep pushing themselves to get things done. For some this is because keeping busy helps them cope with the illness and other are scared of the illness worsening and want to be as prepared as possible. Regardless of the reason, this can become problematic if it’s adding to your stress levels.
  7. Tell others how they can help you – If you have cancer or some other significant illness people often want to help. However, some people find this intrusive or annoying. What you need to do is be clear on how they can help you. Maybe bringing you round a meal isn’t what you need but driving you to the store is. If you are the self-reliant type you’ll need to push yourself a little to actually accept the help, but if you don’t provide people with guidance they just take a guess at what you need – and sometimes that guess will be wrong.