Stress, anxiety and cancer

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A little stress can be a good thing, but too much can have negative effects. Find out about good stress, bad stress and anxiety.

Key points

  • Stress is your body's reaction to something that bothers you; a little bit of stress can be a good thing but too much can negatively impact your physical and emotional wellbeing.
  • Anxiety is a reaction to stress characterized by a feeling of fear, dread, worry, uneasiness or nervousness.
  • Anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as nausea, stomach ache or making it difficult to sleep.
  • More than 1 in 10 people develop an anxiety disorder and that number is higher in people with a life-threatening illness.

Many things in life can cause stress and anxiety. Cancer is one of them. The first step in managing stress and anxiety is to understand what they are.

What is stress?

Stress is a normal part of life and happens to everyone. It is your body’s physical and emotional reaction to something that bothers you. Stress is what you feel when you react to pressure. When you feel overwhelmed, like you’ve lost control, or unsure of how to cope with the demands placed on you, that’s also stress.

  • A little stress can be a good thing! It can motivate you to do your best. It can help you stay focused and alert. Stress can motivate you to study for your test when you would rather watch TV or hang out with your friends or it can help you perform in a sports game. Some people might think of this as good stress.
  • When the going gets too tough and the situation is more than you can handle, however, stress can affect both your physical (body) and emotional (mind) well-being. This is known as bad stress.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a specific kind of reaction to stress and is common in teens with cancer. It is a feeling of fear, dread, worry, uneasiness or nervousness. It can also show itself in physical ways such as nausea or a stomach ache. Sometimes anxiety can make it hard to sleep.

When you have cancer you might feel anxious about:

  • tests, painful procedures or other things you might be afraid of
  • the impact of cancer on your life, school, family, friendships or appearance
  • your future
  • the spread of cancer in your body
  • the possibility that cancer could return in the future

Having anxiety doesn’t mean you are weak or crazy. More than 1 in 10 Canadians develop an anxiety disorder. That number is higher among people who have a life-threatening illness.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019