National Cancer Survivors Day 2020: Addressing mental health of cancer patients in times of COVID-19

National Cancer Survivors Day 2020: Addressing mental health of cancer patients in times of COVID-19

According to the National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research (NICPR), an estimated 2.25 million living with cancer in India. Patients are currently even more stressed due to COVID-19 pandemic.

New Delhi: The pandemic has caused an adverse impact on the mental wellbeing of millions of people around the world. More so among those with compromised immune systems or pre-existing medical conditions, such as cancer, as they are more prone to infections.

According to the National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research (NICPR), an estimated 2.25 million living with cancer in India. Today, along with the stress of undergoing treatment, these patients have additional stress, courtesy of the coronavirus, that has only spiked anxiety. Due to the volatility of current circumstances, there is prevailing stress, depression, and even paranoia. Rajeshwari A, Psycho- oncologist, Cytecare Hospitals, shares insights on addressing mental health issues among cancer patients during the pandemic.

Making sense of the situation

Over the last two months, we have witnessed growing fear among patients. ‘Is it advisable to visit the hospital?’ many ask. While some feel it would be precarious to leave the safety of their homes, others worry about the commute to the hospital. And then, there’s the fear of being abandoned. ‘What if the hospital turns us away? Where do we go?’ they probe.

Mental health is closely linked to physical health, and the COVID-19 pandemic is surely taking a toll on both. A disturbed state of mind can further affect emotional and psychological wellbeing – with panic attacks, insomnia, and episodes of hyperventilation in many cases. Chronic stress is known to trigger inflammation in the body and can cause fatigue, depression, irritability, and severe headaches which makes it difficult for patients to cope with cancer.

It is crucial that cancer patients take care of their mental and physical health during these trying times. When one is mentally healthy, strong, and resilient, it is reflected in their physical state of health as well.

Read the blog to know about the importance of E-Mental Health during Covid-19 era.

Coping with stress

The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. While the medical community wages this global war against the contagion from the outside, many individuals are wrestling with inner conflicts of pain, fear and a sense of hopelessness. Communication can play a key role in coping with stress.

Schedule periodic teleconsultations with a psycho-oncologist to help you navigate mental health issues and find a healthy outlet for your emotions. Learn more about Tele-psychotherapy.

Suppressing feelings will only make your mental state worse. Communicating with a psychologists/psycho-oncologists will help you get clarity in decision-making, without stepping out of the safety of your home.

Similarly, it is important to make a conscious effort to limit your exposure to things that trigger anxiety. While it is good to stay updated, over-consumption of news and misleading WhatsApp forwards can cause unnecessary panic and bring in a flurry of negative emotions. Set boundaries for yourself and respect them. Turn your focus towards the positive; look for things that bring you joy. Practice gratitude as it can be deeply empowering.

Caring for caregivers

As a caregiver to a cancer patient, your role is vital in their lives. However, it’s important to focus on your own mental health. Ensure that you are taking breaks at regular intervals, and also giving yourself much-needed ‘me time’ to avoid burnout. Talk to a counselor or psychologist, if needed.

Be patient with yourself, and find healthy outlets for your emotions. Consider journaling, if it feels cathartic. Focus on building your personal goals to remain motivated. This will help keep you grounded, and rooted in sanity while building your inner strength and positivity.

Things to remember

  • Avail the convenience of teleconsultations, email and messages to stay connected with your doctor. Don’t wait for an emergency.
  • Don’t stop the cancer treatment. Should you need to visit the hospital for chemotherapy/radiation therapy, make sure you have only one person/attendee with you.
  • Wash your hands frequently, avoid touching items people may have touched, and wear a mask in public.
  • Avoid getting out, if possible. Let your caregiver pick up the medications when needed.
  • Maintain self-discipline. Train your mind and body to cultivate a daily routine that works for your health.
  • Do yoga. Practice breathing exercises and relaxation. The more you keep yourself active, the better you will feel.
  • Do not neglect your nutrition. Eat healthy, fresh food and eat on time.
  • Find a hobby to keep yourself engaged. Any new learning can keep you inspired.
  • Bond with your family; have meaningful and insightful conversations.
  • Get a good night’s sleep; seek help if you are unable to.