Dealing with Anxiety and Depression After a Cancer Diagnosis

Published on December 17, 2018

woman with anxiety

Dealing with Anxiety and Depression

Every cancer journey is unique – and so are the feelings and emotions that accompany a diagnosis. Some may feel paralyzed at the sudden diagnosis or fear around the uncertainty of treatments. Others may feel helpless, unsure or out of control.

“It’s important for individuals to recognize their feelings and emotions are valid,” says Marissa Leslie, MD, department of psychiatry at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center. “It’s also perfectly normal for those emotions to shift throughout an individual’s journey. The key is to find healthy, effective ways to help manage anxiety and depression so you can focus on treatments and recovery.”


“A cancer diagnosis can make people feel out of control over their own lives, and that is very unsettling,” Dr. Leslie explains. “One really beautiful and meaningful way to take back that control is to create a different narrative.”

An individual’s narrative is the story they tell themselves and others about their lives, personalities, thoughts and beliefs. The power comes when we choose what kind of story we want to have and share.

“Look for ways to make the diagnosis transformative – what you can make it; what you can take from it,” encourages Dr. Leslie. “Shifting that perspective can be difficult, but it does allow many to move forward into a future they may not have imagined for themselves.”


“Many people wind up embracing a community they were not part of before,” says Dr. Leslie. “This can help individuals share their stories with others who understand, and process their own emotions in a healthy, productive way.”

Communities can include support groups, advocacy groups or groups focused on survivorship. Your community can also be as simple as friends and family members with whom you can have open and honest conversations with about your experience. Spending time with others can help you cope and manage feelings of anxiety and depression.


It’s easy to focus only on the physical treatment when it comes to cancer. Dr. Leslie urges individuals to take care of their mind and soul, along with their physical health.

“Chronic stress and anxiety releases chemicals that can affect immunity and sleep patterns – which are very important to maintain during cancer treatment,” explains Dr. Leslie.

Find ways to help relieve your stress. That may include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Journaling
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Meditation
  • Walking
  • Prayer
  • Strengthening social ties


“There is help out there if you’re battling anxiety or depression with a cancer diagnosis,” says Dr. Leslie. “There is no shame or weakness in getting that help.”

Professional help may look different for each person – depending on your unique goals and needs. Treatment may include:

  • Group counseling sessions
  • Individual therapy
  • Cognitive behavior therapy
  • Support groups
  • Medication

“Depression and anxiety is a chronic health condition just like diabetes,” says Dr. Leslie. “Someone diagnosed with diabetes wouldn’t hesitate to take insulin prescribed, and neither should someone struggling with a mental health issue.

“Medication, along with therapy and strengthened social ties, can help you feel better,” she continues. “It works by changing the body’s and brain’s chemistry, and limits feelings of anxiety and depression.”

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