Anxiety and depression

A woman talking to another upset woman

Anxiety and depression are common for people who have been diagnosed with cancer. 

Anxiety is a natural response to a stressful situation, such as cancer, and it’s normal to feel low when you’re dealing with so much. 

But sometimes these feelings last a longer time or become more severe. Anxiety and depression can affect your thoughts, feelings and ability to function in everyday life. You may feel like you can’t cope.  

What are the signs and symptoms?

Physical effects

  • Feeling sick
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Tense muscles
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep problems

Thoughts and feelings

  • Fear
  • Dread
  • Worry
  • Negative thoughts
  • Low mood that lasts 
  • Feeling hopeless

Behaviours

  • Being irritable with others
  • Moody
  • Nervous
  • Angry
  • Tearful

Sometimes it‘s hard to know what’s causing these side-effects. For example, fatigue or extreme tiredness are common side-effects for people undergoing cancer treatment but can also be caused by anxiety or depression. The best thing to do is to go to your doctor and tell them how you’re feeling, physically and emotionally

What can I do if I’m suffering with anxiety or depression?

If you feel that your low moods are getting the better of you or you are finding it hard to cope, it’s important to get help. 

You may be overwhelmed and find it hard to see a way out if you’re feeling very anxious or depressed, but anxiety and depression can be successfully treated. 

It’s not a sign of failure to ask for help or to feel unable to cope on your own.

Tell people how you’re feeling

Talk to someone you know who’s a good listener. We have advice on talking about your cancer.  

If you find it hard to talk to someone you know, you could go to a support group or join an online community.

We can also put you in touch with a trained Survivor Support volunteer, who has had a cancer diagnosis and really knows what you’re going through. Talk to one of our cancer nurses if you want to know more.

Ways to help yourself

There are lots of self-help strategies that may help you to feel better emotionally. These including getting some exercise, joining a self-help or support group, or trying relaxation techniques like relaxation, visualisation or meditation.

Some people find complementary therapies like hypnotherapy, aromatherapy or reflexology helpful too.

You might find it helpful to read our booklet Understanding the emotional effects of cancer. You can download a free copy below or request one through the post by calling our Cancer Nurseline.

Try counselling

Lots of people with cancer find that counselling helps them to manage their emotions and fears and find ways to cope with their diagnosis. The Irish Cancer Society funds free 1-to-1 counselling at our affiliated cancer support centres. Find out more about counselling

Get help from a professional

Your GP, cancer nurses and medical social workers can all support you and your family and advise you about other professionals who can help. For example, psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists.  

You can also ask if there is a psycho-oncology service at the hospital. This service helps patients and their families deal with the psychological aspects of cancer, such as depression.

Take medication, if your doctor prescribes it

Medication can sometimes be helpful. A short course of anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication can often work well. There’s no shame in taking medication to help with this type of problem.

It’s important to look after both your body and your mind.

Understanding the Emotional Effects of Cancer booklet
Understanding the Emotional Effects of Cancer - A guide for cancer patients booklet
This booklet has been written to help you understand more about the emotional effects of cancer. This booklet is for anyone affected by cancer.

For more information

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1800 200 700

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