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Managing Stress and Anxiety for Patients and Caregivers

Relaxation techniques for stress and anxiety:

  • Schedule time to relax
    • Set aside designated “me” time on an activity you find relaxing, such as reading a book, gardening, or listening to music. When you feel more relaxed, you will be able to be more productive.
  • Journal
    • Writing how you are feeling or what you are experiencing is a private way to express and process your emotions. If you’re tight on time, you can try bullet-journaling in small sessions.
  • Deep Breathing
    • This is a technique that involves deep, slow breathing while concentrating on filling the lungs and relaxing muscles.
  • Mental Imagery/Guided Imagery
  • Biofeedback
    • This technique involves paying attention to and controlling your body’s response to stress by paying attention to signals from the body, such as heart rate.  Signals from the body are measured with painless electrical sensors, called electrodes.
  • Hypnosis
    • Hypnosis is a trance-like state that can make you feel calm or relaxed. It is usually accomplished with the help of a therapist in a safe setting.
  • Yoga
    • Yoga is a practice that focuses the mind on breathing and posture to promote relaxation and reduce fatigue.


Other options for stress and anxiety:

  • Join a support and/or peer-to-peer group
    • These can be helpful forums for connecting with others who are going through or have been through similar experiences. Support groups can be online or in-person. Some groups are available for patients, partners, or both. (SEE OUR LIST OF RESOURCES)
  • Psychological treatment
    • Mental health professionals can provide tools to improve coping skills, develop a support system, and reshape negative thoughts. This treatment can be delivered through individual therapy, couples or family therapy, and group therapy.
  • Medication
    • You may benefit from medication if your anxiety symptoms are moderate to severe. Consult with your doctor for the most appropriate medication based on your needs, potential side effects, your medical history, and other medications and/or supplements you are taking.  Some medications are used with psychological treatment to fully treat anxiety.


For Family Members/Caregivers:

Caring for your loved one who has cancer can affect your emotions and mood. Stress and anxiety are common feelings while managing a cancer diagnosis with your loved one. It is important to take care of yourself while caregiving for others.

Tips for reducing stress and anxiety:

  • Communicate with your loved one and their medical team
    • Talking about cancer and your feelings can be hard. Finding compassionate and clear ways to discuss what you are experiencing can help manage difficult emotions.
  • Be kind to yourself
    • It is common for caregivers to feel stressed, anxious, or frustrated. It is okay to feel these emotions. You are also going through a difficult situation, and treating yourself with kindness can go a long way.
  • Make time for yourself
    • Taking breaks will help you rejuvenate, and ultimately will help you be a more effective caregiver. Make time to do things you enjoy or spend time with other friends and family.
  • Get comfortable saying “no”
    • Everyone has limits, and you are likely taking on a lot more than usual while trying to care for your loved one. It is important to recognize when you have reached your limit, and need to decline to take on additional tasks.
  • Prioritize tasks
    • Make a list of common tasks you need to complete, and any tasks you know are coming up; then rank how important it is that these get done. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, focus only on the top-most tasks.
  • Break big tasks into smaller ones
    • Some projects can feel too large to handle. Breaking these into smaller steps can help you make headway on projects that feel overwhelming.
  • Manage your calendar
    • All of the medical appointments on top of your normal activities can make staying on schedule difficult. Avoid over-scheduling yourself by keeping a calendar or planner, and allowing ample time for appointments or activities.
  • Take care of your health
    • Exercising regularly, eating well, and keeping a sleep routine are all important for you, as well as your loved one. Taking care of your body will allow you to have the energy and patience needed to handle everything you need to.
    • Avoid self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, and seek help if you are struggling with this.
  • Concentrate on what you can control
  • You may get stressed by things you cannot control, like long wait times or traffic. While there is nothing you can do to stop these from happening, you can control how you react when they happen. Some of the above relaxation techniques may help you manage these feelings in the moment.Seek support
    • Emotional: Talking about your feelings with your loved one, friends, family, or other personal connections can help you cope with difficult emotions surrounding caring for someone with cancer.
    • Logistical: Asking for help managing the day-to-day needs of yourself and your loved one can alleviate stress and anxiety around getting things like errands and chores done. Your friends, family, and/or co-workers are likely to ask what they can do – and will be happy to help you accomplish tasks you are comfortable sharing.
    • Professional: Mental health professionals can provide tools to help you manage the stress and anxiety of caring for a loved one with cancer. Depending on your needs, they may offer individual therapy, couple’s or family therapy, group therapy, support groups, and/or medication.
    • Financial: Talk to an oncology social worker at your loved one’s treatment location or a financial advisor to manage the costs of cancer care. The sooner you have a financial plan, the more manageable it will feel.
  • Know your rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
    • The FMLA requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for employees who need time off to care for a seriously ill family member. Talk to your employer to set up arrangements if you need to.


You can read more at the resources below:

Caregivers Taking Care of Themselves | Cancer.Net
Managing Stress | Cancer.Net
Anxiety | Cancer.Net
Emotional, Mental Health, and Mood Changes (cancer.org)

Cancer Support Community video: https://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/videos/coping-anxiety-and-depression


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