Managing stress and anxiety

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Being diagnosed with breast cancer and having treatment can be extremely stressful and can lead to anxiety and worry.

Everyone experiences stress and anxiety from time to time. But too much can negatively affect your everyday life, making it difficult to concentrate or sleep.

The tips below may help you cope better.

Signs of stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety can make you feel nervous, worried and tense. These feelings can affect your appetite (stopping eating or comfort eating) and your sleep patterns.

Physical signs of stress and anxiety can include muscle tension, tightness in the chest and a racing heart rate.

In some cases anxiety can become so overwhelming that it leads to panic attacks, causing further fear and worry.

Controlling stress and anxiety

Self-help techniques

There are various self-help techniques that could help you cope at a difficult time. If you’ve tried some of these techniques and still feel stressed or anxious, speak to your GP or breast care nurse.

Self-help techniques include:

  • distraction – this involves learning to focus on the things around you, or a hobby or interest, so that you can shut out negative thoughts
  • relaxation, visualisation and meditation – you can use these techniques separately or together to reduce stress and tension, relax the mind and body and help improve wellbeing
  • physical activity – regular physical activity, whether it’s a brisk walk or yoga, can help clear your mind and reduce your stress levels
  • healthy living – drinking alcohol or smoking will not reduce stress or anxiety in the long term and can lead to other health problems.

Read more tips from a psychotherapist for reducing stress and anxiety.

Talking therapies

There are various talking therapies specifically designed to help you cope at a difficult time.

One-to-one counselling

One-to-one counselling takes place in a private and confidential setting. You will be able to explore feelings such as anger, anxiety and grief, which can be related to your cancer diagnosis, making them easier to understand and cope with.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

CBT can help you change patterns of thinking and behaviour. Unlike some techniques, it focuses on problems and difficulties you are having in the ‘here and now’. Instead of exploring causes of your distress or symptoms in the past, it looks for ways to improve your state of mind in the present.

If you think you may benefit from any of these techniques, speak to your breast care nurse or GP.

You can find out more about stress, anxiety and their treatments in the NHS Choices Moodzone, which includes relaxation tips to relieve stress.

Feeling low?

If negative thoughts are interfering with your life and don’t go away within a few weeks, or keep coming back, it may indicate that you’re depressed.

Find out more about depression.

» Find tips on coping with anxiety after breast cancer in BECCA, our free app

Last reviewed: March 2016
Next planned review begins 2018

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Please note that we cannot respond to comments. If you have any questions about breast cancer please contact the Helpline on 0808 800 6000.

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