Anxiety and the very real problem of emotional health and cancer

Whilst cancer changes people’s lives, emotional stress can be overwhelming too. There’s no list of answers to solve all of your concerns, like to turn the phone off or go to bed earlier. It’s not about the tactics, but acknowledging that self-care is not selfish. It’s about reading the signals and acting on them in times of distress.

No one can manage alone and problems with sleep and anxiety is a very real problem.

Our counsellors know this better than anyone else on our team, so we grabbed a chat with Clare Sherratt to talk about sleep, anxiety and the problems of emotional health when it comes to cancer. 


The mental effect of cancer

“This year is the first time we have needed a counselling waiting list. Cancer doesn’t only affect your body, but your entire mental wellbeing,” explains Clare.

The psychological side effects of cancer are as invasive as its physical impact, and more patients than ever are taking that step to look after their mental wellbeing. Whether that be because the word about cancer counselling is out there more or the demand is higher, clients are looking for support more than Wessex Cancer Trust has ever seen.

Treating cancer is medical, through chemotherapy, surgery and radiology. But what impact does that whole process have on an individual?

“There’s no textbook answer on how cancer can affect you. For some it means sleepless nights and increased anxiety, for others they could function the same as before their diagnosis.

“Operations and treatments can make it difficult to sleep. As physical treatments can affect your body the effect of the diagnosis itself can affect you psychologically. I ask clients how they are, and some explore the deeper rooted emotions that perhaps are difficult to talk about with family and friends.”

Trouble sleeping can be common in patients - distressing thoughts may run through their minds, and sometimes those thoughts can become overwhelming. That’s where our support comes in.

“There’s no set formula for what can help someone. Google will tell you to turn your phone off and read a book, but what if you don’t want that?

 “The trauma and dark thoughts that cancer brings can’t be fixed for everyone with just one solution. It’s deep-rooted.”


Finding out what works for you

Cancer patient or not, everyone’s brain is individual. Cancer isn’t a one-size-fits-all diagnosis, so why should the psychological support be? Every person is different, and once that is made clear to clients and counsellors alike, well-being could be improved.

“What can help everyone is finding the cause of their thinking. It might be centred round loss or losing a family member to cancer. Anyone can pick up some practical tips online, but exploring the difficulties can be helpful.

“Becoming self-aware and noticing something different within you is when counselling may help. A lot of people put up a wall and want to come across strong, but that doesn’t mean they’re okay. Some can find it easy to put on a front, but chances are that person is feeling a lot worse than they are letting on.”

By looking at the cause rather than treating the symptom, progress can be made. We offer counselling for all – more than just the patient are affected by cancer. Parents, children, partners and friends may become carers for those who are too ill to care for themselves, and they need that support too. Humans are not indestructible, and counselling is there for everyone who needs it.


Progress pays off

“Over time, talking helps things become clearer. That clarity can be achieved, and it’s wonderful when it comes.”

Just like physical treatment, one session can’t bring you back to how you were before. That doesn’t mean the person you were before no longer exists.

“Self-care isn’t selfish, and your wants and needs are deeply important.

“The lightbulb moment where you realise you can help yourself is so important. Counselling lets you unbox your thoughts and feelings, decluttering your mind and letting your brain have a break.”

By understanding your needs and knowing that there are people like Clare to talk to, your mind and mental health can begin to improve.