Managing Mental Health While Treating Lung Cancer

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Lung cancer has a huge impact on your physical wellbeing, but receiving a diagnosis may also profoundly affect your mental health. It’s very common to experience anxiety or depression immediately after a cancer diagnosis and throughout the treatment course. In fact, as many as one out of every four people with cancer also deal with symptoms of depression during their cancer journey.

Just like you undergo treatments to manage cancer, it’s important to take steps toward managing your depression and anxiety. Putting on a face and acting like everything is normal can actually make mental health problems worse. Eventually, these problems may even affect your ability to continue your cancer treatments. If you struggle to manage your mental health while dealing with cancer, speak with your doctor about possible treatment options.

Immunotherapy and Lung Cancer

Some Distress is Normal

For most, a lung cancer diagnosis is a shock. You may initially feel afraid, uncertain about the future, and anxious about your treatment and recovery. These feelings, a type of psychological distress, are completely normal. However, significant distress that interferes with your ability to perform daily activities isn’t.

As many as 40% of people living with cancer report significant distress to their healthcare teams. Lung cancer and depression may go hand-in-hand as you struggle to understand your treatment course and grieve the loss of certain plans and dreams. And many people undergoing cancer treatments experience anxiety, especially in the beginning of the treatment journey.

Both depression and anxiety cause certain symptoms which may indicate a developing problem. You may experience:

  • Uncontrolled worry

  • Difficulty focusing or solving problems

  • Unexplained anger or irritability

  • Long-term feelings of sadness or hopelessness

  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed

  • Changes to sleep patterns or your weight

  • Extreme fatigue (tiredness) or loss of energy

  • Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide plans or attempts

Managing Mental Health With Lung Cancer

Significant emotional or mental distress interferes with your life, even beyond your cancer treatment journey. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to achieving positive mental health during lung cancer treatment, you can take steps to boost your mental wellbeing.

  • Keep your body as healthy as possible: Eating a well-balanced diet and getting regular exercise can help boost your energy levels as well as your emotions. Nutritious foods provide the resources your body needs to fight lung cancer. And even milder forms of exercise, like daily walks, can get you out in the sunshine and help clear your mind.

  • Grieve your losses: It’s normal to feel a sense of loss after receiving a cancer diagnosis. This illness may prevent you from achieving certain goals or may hinder your ability to follow through with plans. It’s okay to feel a sense of loss. Take time to grieve, but remember you still have life ahead of you.

  • Talk it out: Keeping your emotions bottled up may worsen any anxiety or depression you feel. It’s helpful to talk about how you feel with family, friends, and your treatment team. Keeping a journal is another great way to track your feelings. You may be able to gain new insights into your experience by recording and sharing your thoughts.

  • Follow your treatment plan: Left unchecked, depression may eventually get so bad that it prevents you from following your doctor’s recommended treatment plan. But staying on track helps manage symptoms like fatigue. Remember, your treatment plan is your body’s best opportunity for health and healing.

  • Keep up relationships: Maintaining an active social life with family and friends can help keep you positive and focused on the future. Your relationships help you develop memories while you enjoy living your life.

  • Speak with your doctor: In some cases, lung cancer makes managing mental health extremely difficult. If you’ve tried to manage your situation on your own and still feel anxious or depressed, your doctor can help you find help to bring you relief. Consider seeing a mental health therapist or joining a support group—there’s no shame in asking for help!

Lung cancer treatment isn’t easy, and you may have difficulty adjusting to your new routine. This is normal. But if you find you’re unable to adjust emotionally, or overwhelming anxiety or depression interferes with your life, speak with your doctor about your experience. Your doctor can help you find effective methods of managing your mental health while also managing your cancer.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jan 22
  1. Anxiety, Fear, and Depression. American Cancer Society.
  2. Maintaining your mental health during cancer treatment.
    Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
  3. Adjusting to Cancer: Anxiety and Distress (PDQ®)
    – Health Professional Version. National Cancer Institute.
  4. Cancer
    survivors: Managing your emotions after cancer treatment. Mayo Clinic.
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