Dealing with Cancer, Anxiety & Fear During Coronavirus Pandemic

April 29, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

David C. Leopold, M.D. contributes to topics such as Integrative Health and Medicine.

By: Melissa Degennaro

Living with cancer and its treatment is stressful. The COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of anxiety for people already dealing with a diagnosis of cancer and there may be times when you feel overwhelmed.

While this is normal, there are things you can do to take control of your anxiety without letting it take control of you.

“Look at your life and think to yourself, what can I control, and what is out of my control?” says David Leopold, M.D., DABFM, DABOIM, network medical director of integrative health and medicine, Hackensack Meridian Health. “Then focus on the former.”

Here are some tips that you can start practicing in your daily life today:

Take control of your cancer care by continuing to go to your treatments and appointments.

First and foremost, don’t let your fear of the coronavirus get in the way of the care you need. If you are in active treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, you may feel nervous about going to the hospital or your cancer center for care, but it’s very important to keep attending your appointments.

“When it comes to cancer, finding and treating it as early as possible gives you the best chance of a good outcome,” says Dr. Leopold.

Health care providers are wearing masks and other protective equipment and will likely ask you to wear a mask, too. Everyone is taking precautions to stay safe and make sure your health and well-being are a priority. If your check-in visits can be done remotely, your doctors may suggest a telehealth visit that you can do from your home.

If you are in active treatment, your support team is also available to provide you with tips and techniques to help you cope or manage stress. You should reach out to your social worker or nurse navigator who can help connect you to the right support.

Limit your exposure to news and social media that may make you feel anxious.

The news is saturated with story after story about COVID-19, with updates happening every day, and seemingly every hour. It can be hard to get away from and it can also be overwhelming.

If you find that reading and watching the news is making you feel more anxious, cut back on your news consumption to just what you need. Maybe check in once a day to your local health department website for any updates or restrictions that apply to you. Or designate a family member to scour the news for you and tell you just what you need to know.

Also, note that there is a lot of misinformation out there, especially on the Internet. Limit your news exposure to trustworthy sources, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical centers. Be especially wary of social media posts from well-meaning friends sharing information that has not been properly vetted by experts.

Many people on social media sites are sharing their anxiety, and that may make yours feel worse. Consider taking a break from social media altogether if it’s just too much for you right now.

Take care of YOU — every day.

Staying home more gives us all an opportunity to take better care of ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally. Here are some ways you can do that:

  • Get plenty of sleep each night. A little nap here and there isn’t a bad idea either and can give your body a chance to relieve anxiety.
  • Take a deep breath. Meditation, deep breathing, yoga, and other mind-body practices are excellent ways to ease stress and feel more emotionally and mentally centered. Not sure where to start? Hackensack Meridian Health offers several online, live sessions to help you manage stress and practice mindful meditation and self-care.
  • Go for a walk outside…Being in nature can be very therapeutic for the mind as well as the body. Get outside and stroll around your neighborhood or on a hiking trail — making sure to maintain social distancing and wearing a mask if you cannot.
  • …or exercise inside. Try online Zumba or other fitness class to get moving. It’s a great time to dig out those old exercise videos from the 1980s!
  • Listen to your favorite music. Or discover something new. Many cultural venues are offering online live music performances.
  • Try a new craft. Have you always wanted to crochet? Paint? Scrapbook? Order the supplies you need online, find an instructional video, and start creating!
  • Watch what you eat and drink. Leafy greens and whole grains that contain magnesium, cashews and eggs for zinc, salmon for omega-3 fatty acids, and avocados for B vitamins can promote relaxation. Try some new recipes and see if family members would like to cook with you. Avoid tobacco and alcohol and drinking too much caffeine, which can make you feel jumpy.
  • Connect with friends and family. Reach out to the people you enjoy talking to by phone or video chat. Host a virtual dinner and catch up on what everyone has been doing. Making emotional connections with others we enjoy spending time with is an excellent way to reduce anxiety.

Reach out for professional help if you need it.

If your fear of COVID-19 plus the stress of your cancer diagnosis is just too much to bear, help from a mental health professional is available. Reach out to your doctor for a referral or consult one of the links below.

If you are in active treatment, your support team is also available to provide you with tips and techniques to help you cope or manage stress. You should reach out to your social worker or nurse navigator who can help connect you to the right support.

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.