Going through a traumatic life experience (be it cancer or something else) can cause all sorts of mental health issues and struggles. Following on from a Twitter chat with some of the cancer community, I’ve put together this list of the ways in which people have sought to deal with their mental health issues arising out of cancer. You might find something on here that helps you. So, in no particular order…
Talking. This is the obvious one. You can talk to people about what you’re going through, how you’re feeling, your fears and anxieties in many different places: support groups and one-to-ones in cancer centres; private appointments with a counsellor/therapist; joining a private Facebook support group; and connecting with people on social media.
- Maggies, Penny Brohn, Breast Cancer Haven, Macmillan all provide support groups and one-to-ones. Find out where your local Macmillan cancer centre is. There are also loads of cancer centres and hospices around the country providing these services. Ask your breast care nurse or GP for information.
- Facebook groups for talking to others going through breast cancer treatment include: Younger Breast Cancer Network (under 45s), True Cancer Bodies, BRiC private group (Building Resilience in Breast Cancer), Live Better With: Coping with Cancer Side Effects.
Singing. Love singing? Why not join a choir. Some cancer centres (for example, Maggies) offer singing therapy sessions or have choirs. Ask your hospital if they know of anywhere you can join a singing group or choir. Or join one outside cancer-land.
Photography. It’s often difficult to find the words to explain how you’re feeling, but you might be able to use photography. I’ve posted guest blogs from people who’ve used photography to explain how they are feeling.
Dancing. This obviously depends upon energy levels, but there are some cancer centres that offer dancing sessions. Or look outside of the cancer community for somewhere near you where you can join a dancing group. Or just dance around the kitchen!
Shinrin-yoku is a term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. Researchers primarily in Japan and South Korea have established a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest. Now their research is helping to establish shinrin-yoku and forest therapy throughout the world. The idea is simple: if a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved. More information can be found here.
Mindfulness and meditation. This is the practice of being in the moment. Not sure where to start? Take a look at this blog post for tips. The Blurt Foundation have a great Introduction to Mindfulness for Beginners on their website. You can find a lot of guided mediations on YouTube and as Apps for your phone. Personally, I’ve found the Glenn Harrold phone Apps to be really helpful.
Mindfulness colouring books. Available from high street stores and online cancer webshops (such as www.notanotherbunchofflowers.com) the beauty of these colouring books are that the intricate patterns focus your mind.
Gardening – growing flowers from seeds or just pottering in the garden. This combines being outside (always a plus point), keeping yourself busy, giving yourself time to think if you want to and creating something beautiful to enjoy. You don’t need to be an expert of know what you’re doing – there is plenty of help online, on Pinterest and on social media.
Sewing, crotcheting and knitting. You could even sign up to help some of the charities who rely on people to help them with making items for cancer patients such as Knitted Knockers, Jen’s Friends cushions and blankets for chemo patients (for example, the Lewis Foundation would probably love donations).
Painting little rocks and hiding them out in the open.
This is often called the Kindness Rock Project and it essentially involves painting little rocks and hiding them anywhere and everywhere for people to find. There are lots of local Facebook groups – just Google or search Pinterest.
Walking outside. The thing about going for a walk outside is that just being outside among nature is therapy. But going for a walk will also give you time to yourself, without distraction to process a lot of what is going on in your head – the worries, fears and anxieties.
Exercise – walking, running, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding. These types of exercise all involve solitary exercise (or you can do it with others). Choose the outdoors versions of these exercises – even open air swimming. Like the point above in relation to walking, being out in nature with time to process your thoughts can be incredibly therapeutic.
Joining a dragon boat racing group. There are dragon boat racing teams just for women with or after breast cancer. This combines exercise and fresh air with the added bonus of being around other women in your situation to whom you can talk about what you’re going through.
Fly fishing. Yes, there are fly fishing groups for women who have or have been through breast cancer. Just imagine the therapeutic benefits of being out in the open, by water,
Crafting. If you’re crafting and creating something from nothing, then you’re giving yourself a project and a purpose. Depending on what you make and the quality of the finished product, you could consider selling the items for charity.
Playing/learning a musical instrument. Musicians can find music incredibly therapeutic.
Sculpture. Not just with clay but with other materials such as wire. One woman created sculptures out of radiation cradles to encourage early detection for men and women alike. These sculptures led to shows in hospitals and galleries.
Baking. A number of people said that they found baking to be therapeutic during cancer treatment.
Drawing and painting.
You don’t need to have any prior experience to use art as a way of dealing with your diagnosis. You can paint or draw something that represents what you’re going through and how you feel. Or you can draw and paint something completely unrelated to cancer to remind you of life outside the cancer bubble. Look for local art classes. The Breast Cancer Art Project is a brilliant project publishing people’s work. Take a look for inspiration (and get in touch with them if you end up wanting to share your work).
(cartoon courtesy of Bruce Gilligan)
Yoga. Another fairly obvious choice of therapy is yoga. You don’t need to go to classes (although lots of cancer centres put on yoga for cancer patients) as you can do it at home. There are a lot of online tutorials. Try YouTube (for example, Yoga with Adrienne was recommended in the Twitter chat).
Keeping a gratitude journal This is a way of focusing on the positives in your life. You write down the things for which you are grateful at the start and/or end of each day. If you’re not sure how to start, the Blurt Foundation has an excellent article on how bullet journaling can help with mental health.
Writing. Last, but not least, is the use of writing as therapy. This is my personal go-to form of therapy. To get you started, here’s a link to my article I wrote for Shine Cancer Support with lots of tips for using writing as a therapy.