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Cancer and Good Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. When we talk about mental health, we’re talking about our mental well-being: our emotions, our thoughts and feelings, our ability to solve problems and overcome difficulties, our social connections, and our understanding of the world around us. Being diagnosed and treated for a life threatening disease such as cancer impacts physical and mental well-being. Cancer patients and survivors are more than twice as likely to have mental health challenges compared to adults without cancer.

Mental health conditions can be exacerbated by the psychological stress of a cancer diagnosis, physical symptoms (e.g., pain, shortness of breath, nausea), and fear of cancer progression or recurrence. Additionally, mental health symptoms can result from the direct effects of cancer and cancer treatment, hormonal changes secondary to treatment, and medications used to minimize symptoms experienced during treatment. 

 We all have days where we feel a bit down, stressed out, or overwhelmed by something in our lives, even if we are not facing a cancer diagnosis. Good mental health isn’t about feeling happy and confident 100% of the time and ignoring problems. It’s about living and coping well despite problems. 

Tips for Maintaining Good Mental Health

Get regular exercise.

Just 30 minutes of walking daily can boost your mood and improve your health. Small amounts of exercise add up, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t do 30 minutes at one time.

Eat healthy, regular meals and stay hydrated.

A balanced diet and plenty of water can improve your energy and focus throughout the day. 

Make sleep a priority.

Stick to a schedule, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep.

Try a relaxing activity.

Explore relaxation or wellness programs or apps with meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Prioritize healthy activities you enjoy, such as listening to music, reading, spending time in nature, and engaging in low-stress hobbies.

Set goals and priorities.

Decide what must get done now and what can wait. Learn to say “no” when you need to

Practice gratitude.

Remind yourself daily of things you are grateful for. Be specific. Write them down or replay them in your mind.

Stay connected.

Reach out to friends or family members who can provide emotional support and practical help.


If you have cancer or are in survivorship and are struggling with your mental well-being, speak with your provider, social worker, or mental health practitioner, today.

Raegan Varnado, MSW, LIMHP, LISW
Raegan Varnado, MSW, LIMHP, LISW

Raegan Varnado, MSW, LIMHP, LISW is an Oncology Social Worker and Cancer Center Counselor at the CHI Health Henry Lynch Cancer Center.

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