According to a 2021 report in the British Journal of Cancer, being diagnosed with breast cancer can lead to four different types of mental health issues: non-specific distress, post-traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety. If you have an existing mental health disorder, it could also be worsened by your diagnosis. In addition, those with a loved one diagnosed with breast cancer are at higher risk for mental distress.

Yet the mind and body are firmly linked, and excellent mental health can help you face the battle with cancer. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to strengthen your mental health at this challenging time.

Make a care plan

Knowledge is power, and understanding what to expect at each step can help you calm and focus your mind. Take someone with you to all doctor appointments to help you ask questions and take notes. Also, assemble an entire care team consisting of not only your oncologist and other doctors but also a social worker who can connect you with community resources and loved ones who can provide daily assistance. Together, develop a care plan for all stages of your cancer fight.

Join a breast cancer support group

Support groups are made up of people going through similar challenges. They’re meant to be safe spaces to ask questions, get emotional support, and share resources with people who genuinely understand. You’ll meet people at different stages of their breast cancer journey, from the newly diagnosed to those in remission. There are also support groups for loved ones, which allow you to get out of the caregiving mindset and focus on your feelings, along with gathering practical caregiving tips.

Share your breast cancer story

You may feel alone and scared when you are first diagnosed with breast cancer. Open up to trusted friends and family members rather than isolating yourself. Answer their questions and take them up on any offers to help. Being open about your diagnosis can help normalize it, making it another part of your story. It also avoids misunderstandings and allows your loved ones to assist you.

Connect with your community

As much as you are able, build and maintain community links. Consider volunteering, perhaps with a cancer-related organization. Or set goals to attend local events when you feel physically strong enough. The goal is to fill your calendar with things to look forward to rather than just doctor’s visits. This can help keep your spirits up and motivate you to keep going.

Prioritize self-care

Lowering your overall stress levels can have a powerful positive impact on your mental health. Whether you have breast cancer or are caring for someone who does, you must make plenty of time to look after yourself. Depending on your interests, you might try meditation, yoga, dancing, singing, painting, or simply a long bubble bath. What you do is far less important than how your chosen activity makes you feel.

Seek professional help

Adding a mental health professional to your care team is never a bad idea. Health psychologists are experts in the links between psychological and physical health. A health psychologist can help you understand and come to terms with your illness or that of a loved one while also helping you manage any mental health issues that develop or worsen.

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