If you are living with lymphoma, you may find yourself focussing on the physical side of your health - symptoms, treatment or side effects. But for good health and wellbeing we can’t separate physical and mental health.
We experience this link between our physical and mental health in the natural way our brains deal with stress. To keep us safe our brains trigger a fight, flight or freeze responses, which all have physical effects. For example, before a follow-up appointment many people feel anxious or stressed, which can lead to physical sensations such as a knotted stomach, feeling sick or dizziness. It’s not only the person with lymphoma who experience this, but family, friends and carers experience this too.
Coping with stress
The thing I notice most is just how many strategies people already have to cope with stress. These are things that people do so naturally they have stopped noticing them. It can be helpful to think about or talk about the things that used to help before lymphoma and consider whether they might still be useful, or whether they can be adapted in some way.
If exercise was something that helped with stress or worries before you were affected by cancer, you may find you can still use that strategy. Your physical health may mean that you can’t exercise the way you would like at present, perhaps like long runs or going to the gym, but you may still be able to be active by going outside and talking a short walk. Noticing all of these achievements is really important.
Making a ‘to do’ list which starts with three or four recharge points each day can help you to be kinder to yourself. These recharge points are small things that you enjoy or that are important for you spread throughout the day. These might be taking time to sit with a cup of coffee for 5 or 10 minutes, talking to a friend, listening to music or sitting in the garden. Many people find short mindful exercises or taking time to notice sounds or sights more intensely work well to recharge them. These brief recharges can help to switch attention away from worried thoughts to something you enjoy. This can give you a bit of a boost and start to lift your mood.
When do you need to ask for help?
If you have never been concerned about your mental wellbeing before, it can be difficult to recognise when you are struggling or things don’t feel right. Whilst the impact of lymphoma means feeling low, anxious or depressed is normal and understandable, help is available and there are key things that indicate that it may be the time to accept help:
- If you find that your brain is so busy with worried thoughts that it is stopping you from concentrating on things like talking to your family, reading a book or focussing on a TV programme.
- If you have stopped doing things that you usually enjoy doing because you struggle to feel motivated and don’t think you would enjoy them.
- If you find you are cutting yourself off from people because you can’t face seeing them or don’t know what you would say, or if you are putting off doing things that would have given you pleasure in the past.
- If you find that you need to speak to your medical team a lot to be able to get reassurance to manage your worries, especially if the reassurance doesn’t last very long.
Should I share my concerns with my family and friends?
If you have a support network around you, they will want to help. Often friends, family and carers feel helpless; by talking to them, asking them to listen and telling them what you need or what would help, you are giving them a way to help you and a job they can do. By talking about something, we can sometimes see things more clearly and often finds solutions. Talking isn’t limited to family, friends and carers; services like the Lymphoma Action helpline are there to listen if that feels better for you.
How do I start a conversation with my medical team?
While your medical team can answer questions about your physical health, organising tests and scans to understand what is going on physically, they can’t identify what is going on with your emotional wellbeing and mental health. That is the part that only you can contribute to your care. This is why it is so important to speak up and let your team know when things feel difficult.
No one will be surprised if you are feeling anxious, low or you are worried about what is happening to your body. They will be expecting you to tell them if things are difficult and will be glad you are sharing that information with them. It will mean that they can help you get the right support.
This is an edit of a piece by Angela Waind that appeared in the Spring edition of Lymphoma Matters (issue 119). You can read the full piece on page 24.
You may also find our wellbeing videos and toolkit a valuable resource.
Published: 3 November 2021
Photograph: Stock photo