Managing life with breast cancer can be stressful. Here are some practical steps you can take to help you cope.

Uncertainty about your health, medical bills, and concerns that cancer will impact your career or relationships can all weigh heavily on you when you have breast cancer.

But while living with cancer can be challenging, unmanaged stress can raise your chances of having other health problems, such as trouble sleeping, depression, and anxiety.

Understanding stress’s impact on your life and finding ways to support your mental health can make your cancer journey a little easier.

Feeling stressed can be a common response to cancer. While you might not be able to change your circumstances, there are steps you can take to reduce the impact of stress on your health and well-being. Here are some strategies that may help you manage stress:

Social support

  • Support groups: Many support groups and advocacy organizations offer peer support from people who have similar types of breast cancer, ages, social situations, and backgrounds as you. Whether participation is virtual or in-person, meeting others experiencing similar situations can help you feel less alone.
  • Family and friends: Having your spouse, partner, and close friends as allies can improve your sense of well-being during treatment and recovery from breast cancer.
  • Benefits of social support: Being a part of a community of people with similar experiences can offer emotional support and help you feel less alone.


Certain mental health professionals, such as psychologists, psychotherapists, and counselors, offer talk therapy to work through concerns in a safe and non-judgmental space. Others, like psychiatrists, may prescribe medications to help you manage certain symptoms.

You can hire one of these professionals or check if any mental health professionals are on staff at your cancer center. They can help you find ways to talk with your loved ones and offer tips on explaining your diagnosis to your children or partner.

Your therapy sessions will cover strategies to help you cope with the changes cancer, and its treatments bring to your life.

Certain evidence-based forms of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can teach you how to accept your diagnosis, reframe the negative thoughts about your cancer that cause you distress, lower the intensity of negative emotions, and worry less about your outcome.

A 2018 review of 10 studies found consistent evidence that CBT is an effective psychological therapy for people with breast cancer and survivors.

It echoed the findings of a 2016 review of 32 studies, which found that CBT helped reduce anxiety and depression and improve the quality of life after people underwent breast cancer surgery.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction

Mindfulness techniques and programs have been shown to reduce psychological stress among cancer patients. There are different kinds of such techniques. Mindfulness meditation is one. During this practice, you let your worries drift away while you still your mind and focus on the present moment.

Mindfulness-based programs aim to reduce stress and anxiety by making you more aware and accepting of your situation and letting go of any judgment about breast cancer and its effects on your life. Usually, mindfulness-based programs are 8 weeks long. You’ll find them at some universities and online.

Physical activity

Exercise, especially aerobics, is good for clearing your mind and reducing stress. Simply going for a walk can enhance your mood.

Research has found that engaging in physical activity during treatment is one of the best ways to address cancer-related fatigue. With more energy, you may feel better emotionally, too. And staying active throughout your treatment can reduce the likelihood of your cancer returning.

Try to get 2 1/2 hours of aerobic exercise plus two strength training sessions a week, even if you have to break it into shorter sessions. Do whatever activity feels best to you, as long as your care team believes it’s safe for you.

While most types of exercise are OK, patients with neuropathies, bone metastases, and other risk factors may have certain limitations regarding physical exertion. It may be useful to discuss any need to modify your activity with your oncology team.

  1. Relaxation techniques offer many benefits: Meditation, breathing exercises, repeating mantras, and other relaxation techniques can ease stress. Consider trying a few options to see which ones work best for you.
  2. There are various ways to nurture yourself: Carving out time for simple activities you enjoy, like reading a good book, taking care of plants, or listening to music, every day can help improve your quality of life.
  3. Yoga or tai chi may help: These programs combine movement with meditation to gently strengthen your body and calm your mind at the same time.
  4. Getting enough sleep is important: Practicing sleep hygiene — like turning off screens an hour before bedtime, doing relaxing activities, and keeping lights dim in the evenings — can prepare you for a good night’s rest.
  5. Laughing can lighten the mood: Watching a funny movie or calling that one friend who always makes you giggle can take the edge off the day.
  6. Try to reduce alcohol, drugs, and tobacco:Though these substances might make you feel better in the moment, they can ultimately magnify your stress response. Plus, they may increase your risk of cancer recurrence.
  7. Reducing caffeine intake: Enjoy your last cup of joe or other caffeinated beverages at least 8 hours before bedtime so you can fall asleep more easily.
  8. Connect with a loved one: Your partner, a relative, or a friend can all lend a compassionate ear when you want to unload your worries. You can also ask them for help when you need it.
  9. You don’t have to do this alone: Tapping into a virtual or in-person support group can offer you a connection to others who are going through a similar experience. The community can offer emotional support and help you feel less alone.

Getting a breast cancer diagnosis, undergoing treatments, and changing your everyday life can bring a lot of stress. Different kinds of feelings may come up that can be overwhelming and hard to handle at times. It’s important to discuss any of your concerns, no matter how small or big, with your healthcare team.

Many cancer centers have integrated or referral systems for you to receive therapy or counseling from trained professionals with a background in psycho-oncology. They may also be able to give you a referral to local organizations.

A good resource for finding counselors who are trained in working with people living with cancer is Cancer.Net. On their website, you can also find resources and peer support groups.

There are many low cost and even free options for therapy nowadays, but having someone trained to discuss weighty topics in the context of cancer may be most helpful.

Suicide prevention resources

If you have thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. Their trained counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also connect with a counselor online through Lifeline Chat.

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Is there a link between breast cancer and stress?

Chronic stress may promote the development of cancer, according to a review from 2020. Exactly how this happens is still unclear, though.

One theory is that stress might weaken the immune system and make it easier for diseases like cancer to take root. The release of stress hormones might prevent damaged DNA in cells from repairing itself, which could help cancer cells grow. Or, stress could stop the natural process called apoptosis that causes cancer cells to die.

Another way that stress might influence cancer risk is by affecting the way you care for your health. Behaviors some people might use to manage stress, such as drinking alcohol, can potentially contribute to your risk of breast cancer.

More research is needed to understand the link between breast cancer and stress.

Does stress cause or worsen breast cancer?

While chronic stress may increase your risk for breast cancer, there isn’t enough evidence to say that it directly causes the disease.

Still, many people blame stress for their breast cancer. A 2014 review, which looked at decades of data, found that many women believed their breast cancer resulted from stress. More research is needed to see whether stress worsens breast cancer.

That said, managing stress can help improve your quality of life while you cope with breast cancer and go through treatment. You may want to try different stress-reduction techniques to see which ones help the most.

Talking with a mental health professional can help build emotional strength to face the challenges of your breast cancer journey. You can also ask your oncology team if your cancer center has mental health professionals on staff. Many centers have therapists helping people with cancer cope with their experiences.

What kind of impact does stress have on breast cancer?

It’s been difficult for researchers to figure out the impact stress has on breast cancer. One reason is that it’s hard to define or measure stress. What one person perceives as stressful, another person might not.

Some evidence suggests that stress might fuel the spread of breast cancer cells, partly by triggering the release of stress hormones like cortisol. These hormones disrupt the natural process by which cancer cells die and suppress the immune system’s cancer-killing cells.

Stress might affect your ability to care for yourself and finish your treatment. Some early evidence suggests that people with chronic stress are less likely to finish chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer or to survive as long as those without stress.

Following a well-balanced diet, exercising, and practicing other healthy habits can reduce the likelihood of your cancer progressing or returning after treatment. Feeling overwhelmed by stress can make it harder to take care of yourself. Leaning on alcohol, tobacco, or drugs to feel better could negatively impact your health and quality of life.

How do cancer patients cope with stress?

People with breast cancer who adopt positive coping mechanisms have less depression and anxiety, fewer cancer symptoms, and fewer side effects from their treatment. There are many ways to cope with stress. Studies find the following stress-reduction strategies to be popular among people with breast cancer:

  • Mindfulness-based approaches: Meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness-based strategies help cope with the stress and uncertainty a breast cancer diagnosis can bring.
  • Acupuncture: Placing very thin needles at various pressure points around the body may ease symptoms like pain, nausea, and vomiting caused by breast cancer and its treatments.
  • Spirituality: Some people find comfort in the feeling that there is something greater than themselves. Prayer is a common coping strategy among people with breast cancer.
  • Support groups and counseling: Being surrounded by people who understand what you’re going through or having the helpful ear of a trained therapist can positively affect mood and self-esteem.
  • Exercise: Walking and other forms of physical activity help you manage the fatigue that breast cancer and its treatments can cause.
  • Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM): Herbal supplements, vitamins, special diets, and mind-body healing practices are popular with breast cancer patients. Before you try any natural remedy, check with the doctor who treats your cancer to ensure it’s safe and won’t interfere with your treatment.

What are the benefits of social support?

A breast cancer diagnosis brings a lot of uncertainty. With uncertainty comes worry and stress. Social support acts as a buffer against stress.

Studies find a strong link between good social support and positive outcomes in breast cancer, including:

  • reduced stress and anxiety
  • less depression
  • improved emotional well-being
  • better quality of life

The quality of social support affects its impact. Simply having people around you isn’t enough. More important is that they are invested in your well-being, whether offering a sympathetic ear when you need to talk or offering to help you with everyday tasks.

Your doctor is focused on treating your cancer and may not ask about your mental health at every visit. If you feel stressed, anxious, or depressed, let your doctor know. Though it can be hard to talk about your feelings, opening up is the first step to managing stress.

Be honest about what you’ve been feeling. Keeping a symptom diary for a week or two before your visit may make it easier to start the conversation and recall your symptoms.

Your doctor might refer you to a counselor, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist for treatment. Some cancer centers have these mental health providers on staff.

If you don’t get a satisfactory answer, seek a second opinion from another doctor. Caring for your mental health is every bit as important as caring for your physical health.

Breast cancer affects more than your physical health — it can also impact your mental health. From receiving a diagnosis to undergoing treatment, the course of breast cancer can come with a lot of stress.

There are ways to manage that stress and reduce its impact on your life. Self-care techniques, gentle exercise, and meditation can all make a positive impact on your stress levels.

If the stress from cancer feels overwhelming, it might be helpful to reach out to a loved one or a mental health professional for support.

Breast cancer has many emotional challenges, but you don’t have to endure them alone.