World Mental Health Day 2021 – Mental Health and Cancer

Posted on: 8th October 2021

October 10th is World Mental Health Day, October is also Liver Cancer Awareness Month. Receiving a diagnosis for a serious condition like liver cancer can have a hugely negative impact on a person’s mental health. Here, Amy, our Scotland Project Manager, shares some simple coping strategies for people living with liver cancer.

"Being diagnosed with cancer can be really scary. Often, being diagnosed and managing cancer brings about a surge of negative feelings of anxiety, depression and helplessness. Many people don’t know where to turn or how to cope with such a diagnosis or how to manage those feelings. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) has proven a really useful intervention for anyone going through cancer. CBT looks at the interactive relationship between our thoughts, our physical symptoms and our behavior.

CBT helps to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression by empowering the individual with some coping strategies to help you to manage living with cancer improving your quality of life.

As this is liver cancer awareness month, I will share below some popular CBT coping strategies for anyone who may be living with cancer.

Mindful and colour breathing

When diagnosed with cancer, we can often think ‘why is this happening to me?’ This, naturally, can leave us feeling really frustrated, angry and out of control. In order to manage those thoughts, we need to try and relax our mind and our bodies. Techniques that help cope with these are mindful and colour breathing. These techniques create a calming environment which helps to destress the mind and the body.

Mindful breathing: Sit comfortable in your chair and close your eyes. Focus on your breathing slowly in and out. When a negative thought occurs, allow it some space to just pass through your mind without judgment. If your mind wanders too far, becoming too uncomfortable, bring it back by just focusing on your breathing. Practice this for about 10-15 minutes when you find yourself feeling angry.

Colour breathing: Again, sitting in a comfortable chair and closing your eyes. Take a couple of deep breaths slowly in and out.  Focus on your breathing. Each time you breathe in, visualize the colour blue, bringing you a sense of calmness. Each time you breathe out, visualize the colour red, relieving any feelings of built up tension from your body.

Create a worry time

Allocate yourself a set time to allow yourself to engage with your feelings of worry. If you feel worried outside of your chosen worry time, then just write the worry down (use your phone or carry a little notebook with you) and come back to it later at your chosen worry time. This technique will help you learn to control your need for persistent worrying, helping to lessen those feelings of stress and anxiety.

How to create a worry time:

  • Choose your worry time, the place you will address it and how long you will spend on it (aim for 10-15 mins per day and not right before bed).
  • During worry time – focus on the worries that are distressing you. Address your worries by asking yourself; ‘what am I reacting too?’ ‘How important is this?’ ‘Am I blowing it out of proportion?’ ‘What advice would I give to a friend if this was their worry?’ ‘What can I do to manage this?’
  • Ignore other worries (or postpone them to worry time if needed). Try to keep the rest of your day as a worry-free zone.

Engage with nature

Getting some fresh air can really improve our mood and release some of the stress, sadness and anxiousness we are feeling. Choose a suitable outdoor activity such as doing some gardening, sitting on a bench, or exercising outdoors. While doing this activity engage with your senses. What can you see? Touch? Hear? Feel? Smell?

Surround yourself with positive people

Make sure the people in your life are positive, supportive people you can depend on to talk things through with and encourage you when you are feeling sad. Being around people who are constantly negative may raise your stress levels and make it more difficult to cope.

Practice positive self-talk

Be supportive and encouraging with yourself. When you are feeling down, think about how great you are! Focus on the things you are thankful for in your life. Sometimes being positive to yourself is quite hard. We can struggle to feel positivity within ourselves. A simple way of increasing your own self talk is by asking the question: ‘If your friend was going through this, what would you say to them to make them feel better?’ Try applying this advice to yourself.

Be kind to yourself

Going through cancer is difficult and it is ok to not feel ok sometimes. When you feel sad try engaging in activities that make you feel happy. Go for a walk, call up a friend, make a cup of tea, watch tv, listen to music, treat yourself! By doing something you enjoy, you will feel a little better."

Further support

The British Liver Trust is here to help anyone affected by or at risk of liver cancer, so please do contact our nurse-led helpline on 0800 652 7330, or join one of our online support groups if you would like support.

The following organisations offer mental health support:

  • Mind, information and signposting services – www.mind.org.uk  – call: 0300 123 3393
  • Samaritans, emotional support and a listening ear 24 hours a day, 365 days a year  – www.samaritans.org – call: 116 123
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