A breast cancer diagnosis is devastating. It shakes you to the core. It surrounds your mind with worry and concerns about the future.
When you’re in the battle of your life, it’s natural to feel worried and even fearful. So how does breast cancer affect mental health?
It’s at this time that taking care of yourself—both mentally and physically — is more important than ever. In fact, breast cancer can affect your mental health in several ways.
Because we’re concerned about your mental as well as your physical wellness, we’ll take a closer look at 5 ways breast cancer can impact your mental health.
How Does Breast Cancer Affect Mental Health? 5 Ways
1. Breast Cancer Can Cause Severe Anxiety
It’s obvious, but the first answer to how does breast cancer affect mental health centers around anxiety. It’s natural to be worried when you receive a serious diagnosis, and you should be aware that this anxiety can manifest itself in many ways.
For those who regularly struggle with anxiety, a breast cancer diagnosis makes the matter even worse. Anxiety may manifest itself in many symptoms, including:
- Increased heart rate or elevated blood pressure
- Difficulty concentrating
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Overwhelming worry—to the extent that it’s difficult to focus on anything else
2. Breast Cancer Can Make You Remember Any Past Traumas
Any time you experience a traumatic event, it leaves its imprint on your mind. You never completely “forget” a trauma. While eventually, you may learn to cope better through therapy or other techniques, a breast cancer diagnosis may bring these past events to the forefront of your mind.
If you find it difficult to function when you remember these past traumas, we encourage you to speak with us. We want to be a resource for you. It’s important that you seek a support network of others who can help you work through the trauma—perhaps even others who have experienced something similar.
We encourage you to speak with breast cancer survivors. Counseling from a trained therapist can also help.
3. A Breast Cancer Diagnosis Can Make You Feel Depressed
An estimated one in four undergoing breast cancer treatment will experience depression. Many experience severe depression and emotional distress, particularly in the first year after diagnosis.
We encourage you to watch for signs of serious clinical depression. These signs include:
- Losing pleasure in activities you once enjoyed
- Feeling sad most of the time
- Difficulty concentrating
- Disruption in sleep patterns—either sleeping too little or too much
- Feeling extremely nervous most of the time
- Eating too little or too much
- Withdrawing from friends or family
- Recurring thoughts about death
If you’ve experienced these symptoms for more than two weeks, seek out help from a certified therapist.
If you have had thoughts of suicide, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
4. Breast Cancer Can Cause Mood Swings
In addition to struggling with the intense feelings you have when battling breast cancer, mood swings can also be caused by certain treatments.
For example, hormonal therapy and medications like morphine and hydrocodone can cause changes in moods. In certain cases, hormonal therapy may induce menopause, which can also produce mood swings.
If you’re concerned about the way medication may affect your mood, talk to your oncologist.
5. Breast Cancer Can Disrupt Sleep Patterns, Which Can Contribute to Mental Health Issues
Did you know that a good night’s sleep is vital to your mental wellness?
According to NAMI, roughly half of all cases of insomnia are related to some mental health issue like depression, anxiety or stress.
Sleep is needed for your brain to “reboot” for the next day. Any change in sleep patterns can contribute to other health issues such as obesity, memory problems and impaired immune system.
If you’re having difficulties with sleep—either sleeping too much or too little—talk to your health care team.
Does Breast Cancer Change Your Personality?
As we mentioned earlier, depression, anxiety and mood swings often accompany a breast cancer diagnosis. However, it’s important to remember that breast cancer is what you have. It is not who you are.
We would encourage you to be open and honest with your support network, letting them know what you’re feeling and how they can help you. Don’t try to go it alone. And remember that while it is challenging, breast cancer does not define who you are.
How to Take Care of Your Mental Health While Battling Breast Cancer
There are several things you can do to help take care of your mental well-being while battling cancer. These include:
- Talking with a professional therapist or counselor
- Maintaining good health habits: exercising and eating nutritious food as much as it is possible
- Mitigating any risky behaviors like smoking or excessive drinking
- Practicing mindfulness meditation
- Asking your doctor if prescription medications can help
Our OBGYNS in Chapel Hill and Durham Are Concerned About Both Your Mental and Physical Health
We have had the honor of working with many women who are breast cancer survivors. It’s been a privilege to share their journey and admire their courage as they fought this battle.
We are concerned about all aspects of your mental and physical health. If you have any concerns, we encourage you to speak to us. We will always take time to answer your questions. We provide referrals to mammograms so you can be regularly screened for breast cancer, so you can catch the disease at its earliest, and most treatable stage.
If you’re overdue for a clinical breast exam or need a mammography referral, please contact us today to make an appointment.