Being diagnosed with lymphoma is a jarring and life-changing experience. As one person stated, “the moment I heard the diagnosis everything changed. I left the hospital and the world was the same but it felt different. I felt like everyone else kept on going with their regular lives but I was in my own personal fog where time was slow.”
The first weeks and months after being diagnosed with lymphoma can be very challenging. You are given lots of information about lymphoma, the treatments, and the side effects. You meet oncologists and nurses. You have blood drawn. You sign forms. You may start treatment. It stands to reason that anxiety and stress are high at this time.
Anxiety consists of nervousness and worry and can manifest itself in physical symptoms like muscle tension and difficulty breathing. Anxiety is a normal reaction to a stressful event like being diagnosed with lymphoma and many people with lymphoma experience anxiety and worry after being diagnosed. While anxiety in this situation is normal, it is also uncomfortable and can make daily life difficult.
There are many effective ways to manage anxiety. Below we offer a few strategies to help, but this is not an exhaustive list. Different strategies work for different people. You may find other strategies that work better for you. Even the most effective coping and anxiety management strategies will not make anxiety disappear completely. Lymphoma is stressful and anxiety is normal in stressful situations. Here we offer three tips to help you manage anxiety and get through each day more easily:
- Take a Deep Breath
First, do not underestimate the benefits of taking a few deep breaths. Anxiety activates the body to prepare us to protect ourselves from a threat. This activation is helpful if we need to jump out of the way of an oncoming taxi. However, it is not helpful when we are trying to fall asleep or concentrate on what the oncologist is saying. Deep breathing helps calm the body which then reduces feelings of nervousness.
To take deep breaths, breathe in through your nose for two or three slow counts (imagine smelling a flower). Then, breathe out through your mouth for two or three slow counts (imagine blowing out candles). The breaths should be slow and controlled, but you should not feel like you are straining or holding your breath. You may find it helpful to say a calming word to yourself (“relax”) as you breathe out. One benefit of deep breathing is that you can do it anywhere and anytime. No one even knows you are doing it!
- Focus On One Day at a Time
A diagnosis of lymphoma can be overwhelming. When feeling overwhelmed, some people find it helpful to focus on one day at a time. What do you need to accomplish today? Are there decisions you need to make or tasks to complete now? If one day feels like too much to handle, focus on this morning or the next hour or the next minute. Every journey is a series of steps. Taking one step at a time can make the journey through lymphoma feel much more manageable.
- Get Support that Matches Your Needs
Support from others can be vital when adjusting to a lymphoma diagnosis. Different people need different kinds of support. What someone else experiences as supportive may not be helpful to you. You may even find that what you need from others changes over time. What kinds of support do you need from others? Is there someone in your life who is able to provide that support? Asking for help from others can be difficult, but you may find that you have people in your life that want to help, but are not sure what to do. Telling them what you need gives them clear instructions and ensures that the support they provide is helpful to you.
Dr. Trevino is an Assistant Professor of Psychology in Medicine at the Center for Research on End-of-Life Care in the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at the Irving Sherwood Wright Center on Aging and NYPH Inpatient/Outpatient Palliative Care Consult Team.