The effect breast cancer and cancer treatments can have on your physical health are obvious.
The effect it can have on your mental health is less so.
It’s important to check in on your mental health as you recover from breast cancer to make sure your whole health is improving, not just your physical health.
Mental health and physical health are connected
When we’re feeling a little under the weather, our mental health is rarely on top form. And while going through treatments and even recovery, your mental health can suffer. It’s important to take care of your whole self as you recover from breast cancer. This might mean practising better habits to foster better mental (and overall) health.
Breast cancer can lead to body image-related distres
It’s not uncommon for breast cancer survivors to feel uncomfortable with their body. In fact, one in three people with breast cancer suffers from body image-related distress. This discomfort and distress can last well into recovery once you’ve beaten breast cancer.
Someone who has survived breast cancer might find that their body is different than it was before they were diagnosed and treated. Surgery might have lasting changes, and it can take a while for your hair to grow back. And when your hair does grow back, it can grow indifferently to what it was like before! Hair that was once straight can grow back curly, or vice versa. All these changes can make for a very stressful, distressing experience and they can have a direct, negative effect on your mental health.
Journaling to promote better mental health
One in four breast cancer survivors develops long-lasting anxiety and depression. If you feel like you need help with your mental health after beating cancer, you should reach out to your doctor. There are methods to improve your mental health on your own though.
A recent study from Macquarie University looked into writing therapy for breast cancer survivors to help overcome depression, anxiety, and body image-related distress.
On average, body image-related distress was reduced by 30%, anxiety by 30%, and depression by 24%% for the participants. Even up to three months after the exercise, participants recorded improved mental health. If you’re looking to improve your mental health, journaling and compassionate writing might help, as it did the survivors in the study.
Self-compassion and hope
One of the biggest findings from the Macquarie study is the importance of self-compassion and hope against body image distress, anxiety and depression. Self-compassion has a strong, inverse relationship with body image distress, and hope has a strong, inverse relationship with anxiety and depression for breast cancer survivors.
The study showed that writing therapy can help promote self-compassion and hope, but it’s not the only method.
If you have your own practices for staying self-compassionate and hopeful, they might be incredibly helpful in promoting better mental health.