Looking after your mental health

Understandably, receiving a cancer diagnosis can have a huge impact on your mental health and emotional wellbeing. 

You may find that thoughts and worries are always on your mind and you can’t seem to  focus on anything else. They can keep you awake at night and can stop you from enjoying life fully. Distracting yourself with other activities can help with feelings of anxiety.

Young person talking about mental health

Coping with difficult feelings

You might find the following tips helpful:

Accept how you feel and be kind to yourself

It’s easier to hide behind a happy front or say ‘I’m fine’. But you can feel overwhelmed and stressed by trying to hide how you really feel. 

Talk to others about how you feel

This can help stop negative thoughts building up in your head. A different perspective can help you to look at things differently. Talking to someone who you trust such as your parents, brothers or sisters, grandparents, friends or teachers can be a good way of processing your thoughts and making you feel a bit better.

Be with your friends

This can help to keep your mind occupied by doing the fun things you normally do with them such as gaming, playing football or going out for a meal. 

Write down how you feel

Sometimes you may not want to share how you feel with anyone else and this is ok. Writing down your thoughts and feelings in a notebook or diary can help break them down so that they become more manageable and less scary.

Be active

This can be as little as going for a short walk down the road. Research shows that doing exercise and being outside in the fresh air can help lift mood and release any tension or
nervous energy that you might be holding in the muscles of your body.

Finding others who feel the same 

Sometimes, the only people who understand how you feel are those who have also faced cancer. You may have made friends on the ward, online or through groups and organisations such as holiday camps and it can be helpful to talk to others who might share the same worries.

Knowing when you need extra help

Sometimes, the full impact of having had cancer can hit a few weeks, months or years later. This can happen at any time in your life and many survivors have experienced this, especially at times of stress such as taking exams, changing schools, starting university or work.

Don’t struggle on your own. Everyone has bad days but you might find that if your feelings are becoming stronger, you feel more anxious or you are struggling to cope with each day, then it might help to talk to someone who can support you better such as your hospital psychology team, GP, or a counsellor.

It is important to talk to your parents, family or someone you trust, and your follow-up nurse, so that they know how you feel and can help you.

Counselling and psychological therapy can give you techniques and strategies to manage strong feelings, control how you respond to others and situations, and helps process negative thoughts that might be overwhelming you.

Sources of information and support

These organisations can support you with all aspects of your emotions and mental health – whether you're experiencing anxiety, depression or stress, or you just need someone to talk to.

If you feel suicidal, don't wait. Call the Samaritans free any time, from any phone on 116 123 and talk to someone now.

Based on content originally produced by CCLG and Young Lives vs Cancer.