April is Stress Awareness Month - a month during which health care professionals across the country join forces to increase awareness of the causes and cures for stress. In this blog, Information Development Nurse Teri takes us through some top tips for coping with stress. 


Stress is the body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. Most of us have feelings of stress at different times in our life.

Signs of stress can creep up on us – sometimes we may not even be aware when we are stressed. However, if we’re able to recognise the signs, we can start to reduce the negative impact that stress can have.

If you are diagnosed with cancer, you may be coping with lots of different emotions. Having cancer often means dealing with situations that can be very stressful. For example:

  • coping with treatment
  • worrying about finances
  • worrying that cancer may come back.

These situations are difficult to avoid, but you can explore ways to manage them and find coping strategies. First, it might help to identify some of the signs of stress and then look at ways to manage stress levels.

What are the signs of stress?

There are many different ways that stress can show itself. These include feeling:

  • irritable
  • overwhelmed
  • impatient
  • anxious or nervous
  • constantly worried
  • tearful
  • tired all the time.

How can you reduce feelings of stress?

1. Do things you enjoy

It’s important to look after yourself. Take time out of your day to do things that you enjoy, such as spending time with family and friends. Socialising and relaxing activities can help with stress.

And remember to...

an image which says be kind to yourself

2. Reach out for some emotional support

There are different ways you can get support with feelings of stress. It can help to speak to someone about how you’re feeling. If you don’t feel able to talk to family or friends, you could talk to someone in your healthcare team or a trained counsellor or psychologist. You may also find support groups helpful. 

an image which says find the support that works for you

3. Try to keep active

Regular exercise can help reduce stress and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. It helps to increase the production of feel-good chemical substances in the brain, called endorphins.

Your energy levels may vary from day to day and you may need to gradually build up your activity levels. If you’re energy levels are low, you could start with regular short walks, of half an hour or less.

We have lots of tips and information about ways to include more physical activity in your routine.

an image of our Physcial activity and cancer booklet

4. Learn some relaxation techniques

Some complementary therapies, such as relaxation, mindfulness meditation and yoga, may help reduce levels of stress. They may be available at the hospital where you have had treatment or through a cancer support group.

Some hospitals have a Maggie’s Centre attached where you can access emotional support and various complementary therapies.

The mental health foundation has free well-being podcasts. You can learn mindfulness online at bemindful.co.uk. You may also find the online tool called Kara helpful. It provides mindfulness meditations designed to support people affected by cancer.

5. Try to eat well

A healthy balanced diet can help maintain our physical and emotional energy levels. Stress hormones, (adrenaline and cortisol) are released from our adrenal glands, that are just above our kidneys. Adrenal function is affected by our blood sugar levels, so it’s important to keep the levels of sugar in the blood stable.

Try to eat regularly and not to skip meals. Having small regular meals, throughout the day can help to maintain energy levels and mood and also reduce feelings of irritability and tiredness. We have lots of information about diet and healthy eating.

an image of our Healthy eating and cancer booklet

6. Try to have regular sleep patterns

Sleep patterns can suffer with a cancer diagnosis. Some cancer treatments may affect sleep quality. Worries are often worse in the middle of the night. Difficulty with sleeping can lead to fatigue, which can then heighten feelings of stress. We have information about ways to try to get a better night's sleep.

7. Ask for help with finances

Financial issues can cause stress when you have a diagnosis of cancer. You may be able to claim benefits to help. You may also be able to get financial help or a grant from organisations and charities.

You can order any of our free booklets by following the links above, by visiting be.macmillan.org.uk or by calling our Support Line on 0808 808 00 00. You can also share your experience and read about the experiences of others on our  Online Community.

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The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

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