Coping with COVID, Cancer and Anxiety

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed:

Anxiety is our body’s response to worry, fear, stress, or danger. We can feel the effects of anxiety physically and emotionally. The unknowns of the COVID-19 pandemic have fueled anxiety for many people. I don’t know how long this will last. I don’t know if I might get sick. I don’t know if/when I should get tested. I don’t know if it’s safe to be with my family and friends. 

When coupled with a cancer diagnosis, this anxiety can be even more profound. Cancer is a pre-existing condition that may heighten your risk of severe COVID illness. This may make you feel more anxious about keeping yourself safe from infection. As a result, you may be feeling more socially isolated than before COVID. 

You may have been used to bringing family or friends to your appointments or treatment. All of a sudden, you have to come alone. This can create challenges in communicating with your healthcare team about your treatment plan and then being able to get this information to your family/caregivers. Long hours in the infusion suite or waiting rooms by yourself can make you feel more anxious. Telemedicine is a great resource, but if your internet is not reliable, it may be hard to have these medical appointments.

How can I cope with the anxiety of COVID and cancer?

  • Seek out trusted, reliable information from your health care provider about COVID and cancer—and ask for specific recommendations from your provider about coming to your treatment center for appointments, tests, and treatment. This can vary from patient to patient.
  • Ask your provider about using telemedicine to have your family/support persons virtually present for appointments. It’s best to give them a heads up that you would like to do this BEFORE your appointment so that a virtual connection can be arranged with your family member. 
  • Come prepared with activities to keep yourself occupied—bring chargers for your electronics or extra batteries. Think about things you enjoy like audiobooks, a new binge worthy Netflix series or crafts. Pack your bag the night before---don’t forget snacks and water!
  • Think about meditations or guided imagery if being alone in the waiting room is making you feel more worried. Apps like Calm, Headspace and Insight Timer offer some great short meditations that can help you relax and feel more at ease.
  • Avoid unnecessary risks of infection with COVID-19 if you can. It is ok to ask friends or neighbors to pick up groceries and supplies for you. As the pandemic has lingered on, many grocery stores have improved their ability to shop “online” and have groceries delivered. At many stores, you can also have someone else be your personal shopper and then just drive up and they put your groceries in the trunk for you. Think about workarounds that allow you to be near fewer people.
  • Get out and take a walk. Regular exercise releases natural pheromones that help to combat anxiety.
  • Cut back on alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine.
  • Seek out a connection with other cancer patients through peer programs and support groups. Many support groups have taken their meetings online---so there is no excuse to not join in! It can be comforting to hear that others are feeling the same things you are as well as some of their strategies for coping.
  • Get enough rest. Being anxious is exhausting. Practice good sleep habits, including:
    • Be consistent with bedtimes and when you get up each day---even on the weekends.
    • Take time to wind down before bed. Try listening to relaxing music, reading, or using meditation apps to help calm your mind and thoughts.
    • Turn off screens an hour before bedtime.
    • Sleep in a cool, dark space.
    • Use white noise machines to block out outside noises. 
    • Limit naps during the day.
    • Avoid evening alcohol, caffeine, or large meals.

When do I need to talk to my care team about my anxiety?

  • Your anxiety is making it hard for you to perform or enjoy your normal activities.
  • Your anxiety is interfering with your ability to sleep, concentrate, or eat.
  • Your anxiety is causing you to feel more socially isolated.
  • Your anxiety is making you feel depressed, sad, or hopeless.
  • You experience symptoms of a panic attack. These may mimic symptoms associated with a heart attack including heart palpitations (racing heartbeats that you can feel), shortness of breath, and sweating. Panic attacks can be very scary for you and your caregivers.

Anxiety is a challenging thing to experience. With some work, you can manage your anxiety, cope with your fears, worries, and stress to care for yourself. Don’t be ashamed to talk about these feelings with your care team---especially now with the added worry of COVID.

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