Managing stress and anxiety

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Once you know how to recognize when you're feeling stress or anxiety you can learn how to manage it. Find out what you can do to reduce stress, what to avoid and what to do when stress and anxiety are too much.

Key points

  • Talking about how you're feeling with someone you trust can help you manage your stress and anxiety.
  • When managing stress, it is important to avoid negative coping methods such as smoking, alcohol and drugs.
  • Signs of overwhelming anxiety include stress and anxiety that have lasted for more than a few weeks, a racing heart or trouble breathing, or you worry that you are going to pass out.
  • Anxiety does not usually go away on its own so it is important to talk to a member of your health-care team so they can help you feel better.

Now you know that stress, anxiety, and bad feelings work in a cycle. You also know how stress works and how to recognize when you’re feeling stressed or anxious.

Here are some simple things you can do to reduce stress.

  • Move your body! Research shows that people are more able to cope with stress and anxiety when they participate in regular physical activity. Exercise and maintaining an active lifestyle can help you release emotions such as anger or sadness. Before starting any physical activity, be sure to talk to your doctor or physiotherapist. Some types of cancer and treatment can limit the type or amount of physical activity that is safe for you.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Change the way you think about a stressful event. You will learn more about avoiding unhelpful thoughts in the next part of this section.
  • Change your behaviour. Learn to use relaxation, distraction and meditation to manage stress.
  • Eat healthy foods.

The emotions, stress and anxiety of cancer and treatment are often too big for one person to handle by themselves. It can help to talk about how you’re feeling with someone you trust such as a friend, teacher, family member, or another member of your community.

What to avoid when managing stress

There are some unsafe ways to deal with stress. Sometimes people take part in risky behaviours (negative coping), for example, they might start smoking or using drugs and alcohol to escape their problems. This can be tempting because drugs and alcohol may seem like easy answers, but they can be dangerous and lead to other problems. For example, they can lead to addiction and problems with friends and family. They can also interfere with your treatment or make side effects much worse.

If you’ve been using drugs or alcohol to deal with stress for a while, you might find it hard to stop. Talk to a member of your health-care team. Remember, what you tell them is confidential and they can help you find healthier ways to deal with stress.

Getting help from your health-care team

Many teens find that it helps to talk about their stress in a safe place with someone who understands what they are going through. When you feel stressed or upset, try talking to a member of your health-care team. They’ve known other young people with cancer and have lots of experience helping people like you. Asking for help can be difficult, but try saying something like, "I’m not sure what to do, but I’m not feeling like myself. I feel grumpy or angry and just worry about things a lot."

They can link you with someone who has experience talking with young people in similar situations such as a social worker, a child life specialist, a licensed counsellor, a psychologist or a psychiatrist.

Whoever they recommend, this person will listen to you and can help you come up with strategies to manage your stress, anxiety or emotions.

When stress and anxiety are too much

For some teens with cancer, the stress and anxiety they experience can be so much that it becomes overwhelming.

You may have overwhelming anxiety if you:

  • have any of the signs of stress and anxiety that have lasted for more than a few weeks
  • you get so anxious that you experience sweaty palms, a racing heart or trouble breathing
  • you become so stressed or anxious that you worry you are going to pass out

Overwhelming anxiety can be very troubling and cause people to avoid any situations that might cause them worry. You could end up avoiding so many things that your everyday routine is affected and you miss out on a lot of good times.

Anxiety symptoms don’t usually go away by themselves. But the good news is that there are people who are trained to help you manage overwhelming anxiety. If you experience a lot of anxiety symptoms, tell someone you trust and be sure to talk to a member of your health-care team. They can help you find treatment so you can feel less anxious and more hopeful.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019