When you're diagnosed with breast cancer, you may only think about the physical effects of the disease at first: How will the treatment make you feel? Will you lose your hair to chemo? Will you need a mastectomy?

But there are mental health effects to be on the lookout for as well.

Some women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have few or no negative mental health effects. Others may experience a number of symptoms, says the American Psychological Association, including:

  • Lack of interest in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Turning to unhealthy activities to cope—drugs and alcohol, for instance
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Self-imposed social isolation

In fact, for some women, these can be even more difficult to deal with than the physical side of breast cancer.

Here are 7 ways to cope with the mental health effects of breast cancer.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Thinking

When you have breast cancer, it's important to take a step back for a moment and look at how you frame your thoughts. This can make a huge difference in how you approach everything from picking up medications at the pharmacy to getting out of bed in the morning.

Source: American Cancer Society

1) Healing at Home: Muscle Relaxation

Sometimes dealing with everything that comes with a breast cancer diagnosis can take its toll on your body in a way that is totally unrelated to the treatment process. Try this technique if you're physically feeling the effects of stress:

  1. Lie down in a quiet space
  2. Inhale slowly and deeply
  3. As you do that, tense a group of muscles in a specific body part, like your arms or legs
  4. Hold the muscles in that tense position for a second or so
  5. Exhale and release the tension
  6. Repeat with the rest of your body

Source: American Cancer Society

2) Healing at Home: Rhythmic Breathing

Other times, you may start to experience symptoms of anxiety. This exercise is good for calming yourself down if you start to feel overwhelmed.

  1. Position yourself comfortably (either sitting or lying down)
  2. Relax your body completely
  3. Close your eyes or focus on a specific object in front of you
  4. Breathe in slowly through your nose
  5. Hold the breath for a few seconds
  6. Exhale slowly
  7. Repeate

Source: American Cancer Society

3) Healing at Home: Visualization

Sometimes you can start to feel better—even temporarily—by bringing your focus back around to something positive. That's where visualization comes in.

This may be difficult for you at first if you're not used to meditation, or you might feel silly. But give it a try:

  1. Close your eyes, breathe slowly, and relax
  2. Picture a ball of white light—healing energy—forming in your chest
  3. As you inhale, imagine the ball moving through your body, soaking up your pain and tension
  4. As you exhale, picture the ball moving away from your body, taking the negativity with you

Source: American Cancer Society

4) Psychological Support

For some patients, a combination of both individual therapy and group treatment is best to address breast cancer patients' mental health needs.

Seeking psychological support can help you:

  • Adjust to and accept your diagnosis
  • Cope with the mental and physical effects of treatment
  • Come up with ways to live a fuller life
  • Banish negative and destructive thoughts

Source: American Psychological Association

5) Support Groups

There are many different types of support groups for breast cancer patients, from formal sessions led by health professionals to more informal gatherings led by the group members themselves.

These groups may be open to people currently undergoing treatment, patients and their families, or anyone affected by breast cancer.

Try to find a group that feels like a good fit for you, even if it means going to a few different sessions to test the waters.

The American Cancer Society also has a program for breast cancer patients called Reach to Recovery, which matches patients with volunteers who provide support throughout their journey.

Source: American Cancer Society

6) Self-Help Groups

Self-help groups are similar to support groups, though they are often moderated by fellow patients or survivors, not necessarily professionals.

The aim of these groups is to be able to vent frustrations and come up with solutions for problems that may arise during your breast cancer treatment journey.

For instance, survivors might have knowledge of resources like where to get good deals on wigs and head coverings if you've lost your hair to chemo.

Source: American Cancer Society

7) Other Types of Support for the Mental Health Effects of Breast Cancer

Other ways to help you deal with the mental health effects of breast cancer include:

  • Talking to family and friends about how you're feeling
  • Seeking spiritual guidance
  • Expressing your feelings through art
  • Taking time for yourself, such as through meditation
  • Getting exercise

Source: American Cancer Society

Learn more about how EIRMC's Cancer Center can help get through your breast cancer journey.