Cancer patients and survivors have a lot to deal with before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Now, the stress of coping with a chronic condition and the threat of catching COVID is creating additional anxiety for patients handling both.
Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Adrianna Deithorn, Vice President of Development, Lead Counseling Clinician for Face2Face Healing and two-time cancer survivor addresses some of the top mental health concerns of cancer patients and offers advice about how to handle them.
Q: What are the mental health needs of cancer patients during normal times – when there is no global health crisis?
A: No matter the type of cancer, or the stage of cancer a patient has, there is a lot of anxiety. Some of their concerns include, survival, the impact of their treatments on their lives and their families lives, side effects of their treatments and the financial impacts that often happen because of co-pays and loss of work.
Q: What are cancer patients dealing with now, with the additional stress of COVID-19?
A: Many patients are dealing with increased depression, anxiety and isolation. Patients do not want to leave home and possibly exposing themselves to the virus. Many patients understand that if they are exposed to the virus and catch it, the consequences could be detrimental to their survival. If a patient already suffers from depression, for example, it will now be amplified as their sense of hopelessness possibly worsens.
Q: Should cancer patients skip their psychotherapy treatments to avoid exposure to COVID-19 at medical centers?
A: No. It’s even more important now to continue mental health treatment during this anxiety generating time. Chronic stress can affect your body, thoughts and feelings. It can trigger inflammation in the body, causing insomnia, headaches, exhaustion, and depression. It also can cause irritability, and feelings of being overwhelmed. At Face2Face Healing, we offer online psychotherapy as well as online support groups for all types of cancer. Our patients can receive their sessions from the comfort of their own home.
Q: What advice do you have for cancer patients who are feeling anxious or worried in the current health crisis?
A: One of the easiest ways they can reduce stress and anxiety is to limit exposure to things that trigger anxiety. Staying informed is important, but it’s also important to set limitations for how much news you watch about pandemic.
In addition consider these options to help reduce anxiety:
- Get health information about COVID-19 from reliable sources, beginning with your oncologist.
- Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga or tai chi. Face2Face Healing offers these classes online free of charge.
- Talk to others – mental health professionals, family or friends – about your feelings and worrisome thoughts. Keeping those feelings inside can lead to more serious physical and mental health consequences.
- Eat healthy.
- Exercise. People being treated for cancer often reduce their activity levels, which can intensify anxiety and depression. The more you walk around, even at home, the better. Always check with your doctor before engaging in more rigorous activities. It is better to exercise to feel better than to wait to feel better to exercise.
- Sleep when you’re tired. Sleep is a great way for your body to heal If you are having trouble sleeping speak to your oncologist.
- Practice good hand hygiene and keep your distance from others: Wash your hands frequently, avoid touching items people may have touched and wear a mask in public.
Q: What mental health services are available at Face2Face Healing?
- A:The Face2Face Clinical team is here to help patients navigate these nerve-racking times. We have two consulting psychiatrists, one clinical psychologist, one consulting nutritional counselor, two social workers and a nurse. Our patients have access to all of these services free of charge. Our clinical staff are available every day, including weekends. Patients can visit us in person, at the hospital, in their home, or by phone or video. Most of our patients already are taking advantage of these remote-care options.
- Furthermore, Face2Face Healing offers a broad array of classes and groups including online yoga, tai chi, meditation, mindfulness and support groups for all types of cancer.
For more information or to schedule a private session with our clinical team please go to www.face2facehealing.org.