Worry is a normal part of the cancer journey, says Emma Stein, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont.
“There are many stress-inducing moments and situations along the cancer journey, from diagnosis to testing to treatments,” she explains. “Worry is a normal reaction to a very stressful life situation like a cancer diagnosis.”
Transition points, like being diagnosed, ending treatment and potential recurrence can trigger a lot of worry and anxiety, says Stein. As you get used to a new situation and adjust, your natural coping skills should kick in and the worry usually decreases.
Signs you’re worrying too much
The No. 1 sign you may be worrying too much is if worry is affecting your daily functioning and relationships.
“If you’re not sleeping, you have no appetite, you feel distracted all the time because your mind is racing and you can’t be present in the moment, these are signs that you need to seek support,” says Stein.
It’s normal to have days where you are distracted or can’t sleep, but if it continues for an extended period of time, she recommends seeking guidance from a counselor.
How to cope with worry
To manage your worry and anxiety, Stein recommends:
Seeking professional counseling. “Counseling provides a space to share your worries and concerns,” she explains. “Often, people find themselves trying to protect their loved ones. Therapy can be a place to be open with your deepest fears and develop coping skills for worry.”
Considering what worked in the past. Look back at how you coped with past struggles to see what coping mechanisms worked and what didn’t. Perhaps going for long walks helped clear your mind, while eating junk food made you feel worse. Reflecting on what worked for you then may help you determine strategies that can be beneficial now.
Sharing your concerns with loved ones. Talking with supportive family members and friends can help you process your thoughts and feel loved and supported.
Breaking down your worries into questions. If you can’t stop thinking about a particular treatment, for example, reframe your worries as questions for your oncologist so you can get answers.
Taking time for self-care. Exercise, sleep and hobbies can help boost your mood and keep you engaged in positive activities that take your mind off your concerns.
Talking back to your worries. Consider your worrisome thoughts and “talk back” to them with more positive, helpful statements.
Worry is a common part of the cancer journey, but there are steps you can take to ensure it doesn’t control your thoughts and actions.
Learn more ways to reduce stress and improve your well-being.