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There are steps you can take that will help you manage the stress that can come with with a cancer diagnosis.

Uncertainty about your health, worries about 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 the impact stress can have on your life and finding ways to support your mental health can make your cancer journey a little easier.

Stress 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:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Going for a walk can boost your mood. Aerobic exercise is good for clearing your mind and reducing stress.
  • 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.
  • Getting 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.
  • 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.
  • Try to reduce alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. Though these substances might make you feel better in the moment, they can ultimately magnify your stress. Plus, they may increase your risk of a cancer recurrence.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Certain mental health professionals offer talk therapy to work through things in a safe and nonjudgmental space, while others may prescribe medications to help with certain symptoms.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be particularly beneficial for people coping with the stress of cancer. It can teach you how to find a new perspective and lower the intensity of negative emotions.

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

While in-person therapy can be expensive, free and low-cost options are available online through services like:

Sometimes, stress can be overwhelming but support is available.

Suicide prevention resources

If you have thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Their trained counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also connect with a counselor online through Lifeline Chat.

Breast cancer is estimated to affect more than 281,000 women in 2021. Given how common this cancer is, researchers have been studying factors — including stress — that may increase your risk for the disease.

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 do 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.

While chronic stress may increase your risk of 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 was a result of stress.

It’s possible that stress may make breast cancer worse.

Research from 2019 found that hormones released in response to stress contributed to the growth of breast cancer cells in mice. Another study from 2019 found similar results in mice from the stress hormone epinephrine.

Still, more research is needed to see if stress worsens breast cancer in people.

With that said, managing stress can help improve your quality of life while coping with breast cancer and going 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 who specialize in helping people with cancer cope with their experiences.

Breast cancer affects more than your physical health — it can also impact your mental health, as well. 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, though. 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 comes with many emotional challenges, but you don’t have to endure them alone.