We all experience anxiety at times, it’s a natural response when we perceive we are under threat. Anxiety can be experienced through physical sensations, thoughts or emotions. We can become, nervous, panicky, worried or afraid as well as experience palpitations or a dry mouth. It’s very common to experience anxiety during or after a stressful or life changing event such as cancer.
Before having cancer I would experience general anxiety at times about not having enough time, upsetting people and not being perfect. After cancer the focus, type and intensity of my anxiety changed and increased. Instead of addressing the underlying emotions and exploring what my anxiety was about I managed my anxiety through my behaviour of being busy all the time.
1. Health Anxiety
Health anxiety can be described as spending too much time thinking you are ill or are going to become ill. After cancer my body felt unsafe. Cancer had lurked silently in my body and I didn’t know what else could be in there and so how could I trust it again? I was constantly on high alert and anxious about having cancer again. A cough was never just a cough it became lung cancer, back ache was bone cancer and feeling sick was liver cancer. I have managed this by being vigilant about any changes in my body and check myself over once a week. I am proactive but not overeactive in having any changes checked out. I am also aware that in the run up to tests, appointments and anniversaries I experience higher levels of health anxiety.
2. Side effects of treatment
One of the cancer treatments I have is a medical menopause. A side effect of this was a massive increase in general day to day anxiety and would feel anxious all day about everything. It was paralysing and I would be so anxious I wouldn’t be able to make day to day choices, it was as if my brain shut down. Because of the type of cancer I have I cannot take medication for the menopause and I have managed this anxiety by reducing and removing any other sources of stress and anxiety in my life. I take time each day to look after my physical and emotional health by listening to my body, exercising, reading and practicing yoga.
3. Medical anxiety
After having cancer I now have a medical anxiety about anything medical. Any appointments, tests or treatments (whether cancer related or not) increases my anxiety enormously. This is a left over from the tests I have had to diagnose or screen for cancer and the side effects of treatments. My anxiety focuses on feeling out of control, powerless as well as fearing what may be found as well the uncertainty and unpredictability of cancer. I have not really found a successful way to manage this and so just have to go with what I am experiencing trusting it will pass.
4. Death anxiety
After cancer anxiety about death occupied my mind at unhealthy levels at times. I manage anxiety about death by having faced my fears about dying and accepting that death is part of life. I now live with a focus of what is important to me and with passion and purpose making each choice and each second count, it’s a cliché but I do live as if each day was my last because it could be.
Anxiety post cancer can linger for many months and years after apparently successful treatment and is another reason why cancer if difficult to recover from. There can be anxiety about whether the treatment has worked or whether the cancer may return. We cannot remove anxiety fully from our lives but we can manage it to reduce the effect it has on us. The more I practiced my new ways of thinking and behaving the less anxiety I experienced but it did take time and I do still feel extremely anxious at times.
It can help to identify what you are anxious about and what you can do to reduce this anxiety.
What do you feel anxious about after having cancer? How do you manage this anxiety? Is there anyone who you can talk your anxiety through with?