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Living Well With MBC > Managing Your Emotions
Living with metastatic breast cancer can be emotionally challenging. You may feel anxious one day, sad the next, and angry another day. Sometimes you might not be able to figure out what you’re feeling. This is especially true when you’re already under stress. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Every person is unique, and every person will feel different things at different times. But identifying your emotions can help you manage them better.1,2,3
It’s common to feel anxious, worried, or fearful when you’re unsure about the future. Uncertainty is a normal part of life—particularly when you’re living with advanced or MBC. You may be feeling nervous about your next doctor’s visit or medical test. Or you may be concerned about your treatment and wonder how well it’s working.1
Sometimes we can feel these emotions in our bodies. They can cause physical symptoms, like:4
These tips may help you manage the anxious thoughts and the physical symptoms they may cause.
If a medication or related challenge is causing you to feel anxious, your doctor may be able to provide suggestions to help you manage anxiety or switch you to another medication.
There are some things in life that we just can’t control. You can’t prevent a storm from coming, but you can prepare for it. And you can’t control what someone else does, but you can control how you react to it.5
When you’re worried, it can help to be aware of which things are out of your control. Control the things you can and try to focus less on things you can’t.
For example, when you go for a medical test, think about the following:
Sometimes all you can control is what you try to do and how you try to do it. That can be hard to accept. But when you focus on the things you can control, you may be able to deal with any anxious feelings better.5
When you feel anxious, worried, or fearful, your breathing may become fast and shallow. This exercise may help control your breathing and make you feel more relaxed.
Practice this breathing exercise regularly. Then, once you’re comfortable with it, you can use it anywhere and at any time.
It’s natural to feel sad when you’re living with MBC. You may grieve the life you had before your diagnosis or feel sadness about how the disease has impacted your appearance, your life, and your plans.9 You don't have to pretend that you're not feeling these things.
It’s also OK if you want to be alone. You may need time to be by yourself. Use that time to acknowledge your feelings. Let yourself cry or express sadness in whatever way feels right.9
If you need some time for yourself, it may help to tell your family and friends:2
During that time, it may also help to ask yourself these questions and write down your reaction:
Make an appointment with yourself once a week to explore the emotions you are feeling.
Sometimes feelings of sadness can be overwhelming and get in the way of your daily life. Be open with your healthcare team about your emotions. They may be able to help.9
It may help to maintain your normal routine as much as you can. This can be meeting a friend for coffee, having breakfast with your family, or anything else you enjoy as part of your normal schedule.
However, you may not enjoy doing some things as much as you used to. Planning activities can help you work them back into your day-to-day life. It can give you something to look forward to and provide a sense of purpose. It can also distract you from thinking about cancer. Try starting with these steps:
Write a list of small, everyday activities you like doing. Below are a few ideas. The activities are in groups to help you think through each of them. Maybe you prefer some of the categories over others. Or maybe you want to pick one activity from each group. To help choose activities that are meaningful to you, you can rate them by how rewarding they are and by how easy they are for you.
Once you choose your activities, use a calendar to schedule the day and time for each one. Try to plan at least one a day. Keep your schedule somewhere visible to remind you and your loved ones of the planned activities.
It can be too easy to let sad thoughts and feelings build up inside. It’s important to have an outlet—a way to express those negative emotions. Talking and writing about them can help.
Talking with other people about your thoughts and feelings may help you make sense of things and help you to feel less alone.
Many people find it helpful to talk with a professional, like a counselor or psychologist. If that’s something you’d like to try, ask your doctor for a referral.
If you aren’t ready to talk to someone about your feelings yet, try writing them down. It may help you clear your head.10
Two common ways to write about your feelings are:
Whatever way you choose to do it, writing can help you let go of negative thoughts and feelings.
When sadness won’t go away12
Most people have feelings of sadness at some point. But sometimes, these feelings can be lasting. Worse, they can stop you from enjoying your daily life. When that happens, the feeling may be more than just sadness. It might be a treatable condition called depression.
Think about these sentences below. Are any of them true for you most of the time?
Be sure to talk with your healthcare team about your feelings. if your doctor thinks you have depression, they may prescribe things to treat it, such as medication and talking with a psychologist or counselor.
You may be asking yourself, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” You may be mad at your healthcare team, family members, friends, and even yourself. If you are religious, you may even question your faith. These are common feelings among people with advanced or metastatic breast cancer.13
Frustration and anger can be powerful emotions. They may show themselves in physical ways, like tightness in your chest, a racing heart, or tension in your muscles.14,15
The key is to manage these emotions before they take control of you and affect the people around you. Here are a few tips that can help you manage these feelings. They may even help stop your frustration and anger from building up in the first place.
It is common to feel angry and frustrated about having cancer or with things that have happened during your diagnosis or treatment. You may find yourself lashing out at healthcare providers or friends and family members.13 That’s understandable. Using clear communication can help make sure your feelings are understood. Clear communication works two ways: it means expressing yourself clearly and listening to others carefully.16
Express yourself clearly
Listen carefully to others
Bottom line: Do not wait for anger and frustration to build up. Express your feelings as soon as you recognize them. If you hold them in, you are more likely to express anger in an unhealthy way.17
Distraction can be a good way to let go of frustration and anger. Distraction is not about trying to escape or avoid a feeling.18 Distraction can take your mind off things by redirecting your thoughts to something more positive. 18 It also may help you think more calmly and clearly about the situation.
Consider these ways to help distract you for a little while:
Anger and frustration can make our muscles feel tight. Muscle relaxation exercises can help you deal with that feeling.19
To do a muscle relaxation exercise, you tense and then relax different muscles in your body. You start with your toes and then move up through your body to your head. With practice, it should become easier for you to recognize and respond to tension in your body.
At the end of the exercise, it can be helpful to spend a few minutes just relaxing quietly. See if you notice any tension in your body and try to relax it. Otherwise, just let the tension be. If your mind wanders, try to bring your focus back to your breathing.