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Breast cancer: Getting support

No one should go through a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment alone. Support from family, friends and specialist charities is as important as the medical treatment itself.

Learn more about getting support for breast cancer.

What causes stress among breast cancer patients?

Stress is common among breast cancer patients. Stressors related to the disease may include the uncertainty of one's future, the unpredictability of disease, disability and financial difficulties.

Common stress signals can include disturbed sleep, fatigue, body aches, pain, anxiety, irritability, tension and headaches.

How can I reduce stress?

Stress can build up, influencing the way you feel about life. Prolonged stress may lead to frustration, anger, hopelessness, and -- at times -- depression. The person with the illness is not the only one affected. Family members are also influenced by the health changes of a loved one. To reduce stress:

  • Keep a positive attitude.
  • Accept that there are events you cannot control.
  • Be assertive instead of aggressive. "Assert" your feelings, opinions or beliefs instead of becoming angry, combative or passive.
  • Learn to relax.
  • Exercise regularly. Your body can fight stress better when you are physically fit.
  • Eat well-balanced meals.
  • Rest and sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.
  • Do not rely on alcohol or drugs to reduce stress.

How can I learn to relax?

There are a number of exercises that you can do to relax. These exercises include breathing, muscle and mind relaxation, relaxation to music, and biofeedback. A few that you can try are listed below. First, be sure that you have a quiet location that is free of distractions, a comfortable body position (sit or recline on a chair or sofa) and a good state of mind. Try to block out worries and distracting thoughts.

What are some effective relaxation exercises?

Here are some relaxation exercises to try:

  • Two-minute relaxation. Switch your thoughts to yourself and your breathing. Take a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly. Mentally scan your body. Notice areas that feel tense or cramped. Quickly loosen up these areas. Let go of as much tension as you can. Rotate your head in a smooth, circular motion once or twice. (Stop any movements that cause pain.) Roll your shoulders forwards and backwards several times. Let all your muscles relax completely. Recall a pleasant thought for a few seconds. Take another deep breath and breathe out slowly. You should feel relaxed.
  • Mind relaxation. Close your eyes. Breathe normally through your nose. As you breathe out, silently say to yourself the word "one", a short word such as "peaceful" or a short phrase such as "I feel quiet". Continue for 10 minutes. If your mind wanders, gently remind yourself to think about your breathing and your chosen word or phrase. Allow your breathing to become slow and steady.
  • Deep breathing relaxation. Imagine a spot just below your navel. Breathe into that spot and fill your abdomen with air. Let the air fill you from the abdomen up, then let it out, like deflating a balloon. With every long, slow breath out, you should feel more relaxed.
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