When faced with a cancer diagnosis, it can seem sometimes that we don't have any control over what we think or how we feel. But there are a few simple things you can do to help.
One of the best websites we’ve found is provided by the UK charity Macmillan Cancer Support.
The website is called Teen Info on Cancer - check it out.
It’s set up especially for young people with cancer and has a lot of really useful information and ways for you to connect with others who are going through cancer too. Even though it’s based in the UK, and some treatment plans may vary, the experience of going through cancer is one that we can all understand, no matter where we live.
Exercise is not only good for your physical health, but also your mental health.
What does this mean? Quite simply, exercise is as good as antidepressants in managing and treating mild depression. So if you are feeling well enough, it is good to get moving.
Good food is good for your mood. There is increasing evidence that what we eat affects our mood and is known as the ‘food – mood’ connection. When you are going through treatment for cancer yourself, it can be really hard to eat, so try and nourish yourself as best you can.
Carbohydrates: Glucose from carbohydrates provides the brain with its main source of fuel and without it we can’t think clearly. Though some are better than others. Sugar (including sugary drinks and foods), white pasta and biscuits only give you a short burst of energy, leaving you feeling tired and grumpy when the sugar high wears off. This can make you irritable, anxious, dizzy, experience a lack concentration and aggressiveness. Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, beans and vegetables, are better as they give you sustained energy.
Proteins are vital for good mental health as the messengers in the brain are made from proteins that we eat. Proteins are found in meat, fish and soya products and the body breaks them down to be used as amino acids. If we don't get enough amino acids, we can often experience feelings of depression, apathy, lack of motivation or tension.
Essential fats, found mainly in oily fish, seeds and nuts, cannot be made within the body, so we have to get them from food. Sixty per cent of the brain is made of fat, and the fats we eat directly affect its structure. A lack of omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to various mental health problems, including depression and lack of concentration.
Doing good feels good. Scientists have shown that helping other people makes us happy. Research suggests that people who volunteer for causes they care about tend to be happier and healthier.
Helping others does not have to take up much of your time. It can be as simple as sharing your tips and experiences with others who are having a hard time on our online community or volunteering for a cause close to your heart.
Self-esteem is how you think about yourself and the opinion you have of yourself.
Self-esteem can just be down to your own temperament, but sometimes life experiences can have an impact too.
Low self-esteem can be the cause of quite a few problems. You feel bad about yourself, so you get depressed, which makes you feel even worse about yourself, so you get more depressed and it can be difficult to break that cycle. It is important to tackle low self-esteem to boost positive thinking and positive mental wellbeing.
To change your beliefs, you have to understand your negative thoughts. Think about what your negative beliefs are and when you started to feel like this.
Gather evidence to challenge this and write them down so you have a list as evidence when you are feeling down. For example, if you feel you are unattractive, note it down when you receive a compliment from someone that says you look pretty or they like your new haircut.
Write down the things you like about yourself. Think about your best feature; things you have achieved; nice things you have done for other people; skills and talents that you or others have noticed and write all these positive things down. This is good to look back on when you are having a bad day or when you are nervous about something.
Look at the people you have around you and think about how they make you feel. If you are spending a lot of time with someone who makes you feel rubbish, then spend a bit less time with them and more time with people who make you feel good about yourself.
Set yourself a goal or challenge, such as a charity walk or run
And then there are the feelings that you have about your brother, sister, Mum or Dad who may have cancer … we all react differently but you may be worried, angry, frightened and sad, just to name a few!
It’s important to know that these feelings are normal and there is help available for you through Kenzie’s Gift or though the Macmillan Cancer Support website.
The website also has tips to help if your friend, boyfriend or girlfriend has cancer. It’ll give you some information about supporting that person and ways of understanding your own feelings.
Just as there are different types of physical illness and treatment plans, the same applies to mental health. But mental illness is something most people find hard to talk about. Here, we have outlined some information about common mental health problems that can occur when facing a diagnosis of cancer. There are tips to help you cope, but you can also access one on one support from Kenzie’s Gift.
A cancer diagnosis can trigger some very strong feelings that can be hard to cope with, and anger is one of them. If you don’t have good ways of coping with it, you can end up behaving in ways that you might later wish you hadn’t.
When we get angry, the hormone adrenalin makes our teeth clench and our shoulders tense. You may feel your heart pump faster, your stomach might churn, your fists may clench and muscles tense. These are natural reactions and can be useful signals to warn us when we are getting worked up.
It is normal and healthy to feel angry when there is good reason. When faced with cancer, young people often feel angry. It is important to manage those feelings so you don’t hurt yourself or others. There are outlets for your anger to manage it in a safe way. Ask yourself if you:
If you answered yes to the above, you do need some support and advice on managing your anger, because anger can lead to other problems if you don’t get some help.
Some additional problems include eating problems, depression, risky behaviour, refusing to go to school, becoming isolated, harming ourselves, drinking too much alcohol or taking drugs. These might seem to be an outlet for our anger, but they don’t help in the long-term.
What to do when you're angry If you are feeling angry there are things you can do to help yourself. The first thing you need to do is talk to someone about how you are feeling.
Kenzie’s Gift One on One Support Kenzie’s Gift provides one on one support with registered child and adolescent psychotherapists who are there to help you with problems you are having. They listen and talk to you about how you are feeling and give you the tools and coping mechanisms to deal with your anger. These services are confidential and so your friends don’t need to know about these sessions if you don’t want them to. It is likely you would have weekly sessions and each meeting would probably be an hour until you both felt you were doing well and didn’t need to see them anymore.
In time you may learn to deal with the anger and here are some things that can help you manage your feelings:
If you are feeling very angry try and walk away from the situation to calm down rather than saying or doing something you might regret later.
Problems with anxiety are really common. According to the charity Anxiety UK, as many as 1 in 6 young people will experience an anxiety problem at some point in their lives.
Anxiety is the feeling of fear or panic. Most people feel anxious, panicky or fearful about situations in life, and a cancer diagnosis is no different. Often, once the difficult time is over, you feel better and calmer. Sometimes the feelings of fear or anxiety continue or you may feel a stronger sense of fear than others. This is when anxiety becomes a problem and can affect you doing every day things.
Symptoms of anxiety include feeling frightened, nervous or panicky all the time. You may also feel down or depressed and have difficulties sleeping and eating, be unable to concentrate on things and feel tired and irritable. Physically you might have palpitations or a racing of your heart, dry mouth, trembling, faintness and you may experience stomach cramps or diarrhoea.
Young people with anxiety usually experience anxiety in three ways:- generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic attacks or phobias.
Young people who have GAD worry a lot of the time and the anxiety makes doing every day things difficult.
Panic attacks are feelings of extreme anxiety that come on unpredictably and can last for about 10 minutes. If you have a panic attack, you may have difficulties breathing, feel panicky and out of control. These feelings gradually subside and go away but can leave you feeling quite shaken.
If someone has a phobia, they tend to feel very nervous and panicky about one thing in particular. The thing that you might be anxious about may not be dangerous but can make you feel really anxious.
Most young people occasionally will feel down or upset by certain things going on in their lives. A cancer diagnosis can sometimes leave you feeling sad, lonely, down, anxious or stressed for longer periods of time.
If these feelings start to impact on your everyday life and are preventing you from doing things you would normally do and enjoy, you maybe experiencing depression.
The first thing to do is talk to someone.
This could be your parents, a sibling, friend, teacher, GP or one of Kenzie’s Gift therapists. People who care about you will want to help you to feel better so don’t feel worried about talking to people.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a friend, teacher or your parents, go and see your GP or contact Kenzie’s Gift.
Don’t suffer in silence.
Keeping it all to yourself will only worsen your feelings of anxiety or depression and remember, you’re not the only one to feel like this, other young people – and adults too – experience depression.
When something traumatic or life threatening happens to a loved one, or us it can affect us physically and mentally, (often affecting the way we think about things). Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can result if you experience something where you feel really frightened, helpless or like you might die, (all feelings and experiences commonly associated with cancer).
There are three main types of symptoms of PTSD:
You keep remembering the traumatic event and get flashbacks or nightmares, reliving the event.
You are scared to relive the event or think about it and so you keep yourself really busy to keep your mind occupied. You may keep busy at work or college and avoid anything that reminds you of the event.
You may feel anxious all the time and unable to let your guard down for fear that the traumatic event will happen again. You might feel jumpy and irritable. Younger children can also have PTSD, but instead of vividly remembering the event and having flashbacks, they might re-enact the experience through play, have unpleasant dreams, or have problems sleeping.
Some people experience PTSD immediately after a traumatic event or it may start weeks, months or years later although symptoms would usually appear within six months.