06 Feb 2012 Wellbeing

Blood cancer: Top tips for keeping mentally healthy

Keeping mentally healthy when you have blood cancer can be challenging, but there are lots of things you can do to help keep yourself psychologically well.
Here, the Leukaemia UK Mind & Body team at King’s College Hospital share some of the top tips they offer to the patients they support
Ask for support, early

A lot of people with haematological illnesses tell us life is unrecognisable to what it was like before their illness. People really struggle with that and can need support from mental health professionals, family and friends. But a lot of people don’t feel confident about speaking up about those things. It’s really important to ask for support to do the activities that gave you a sense of purpose and meaning before you became unwell, and ask for it early.

Remember you’re still you

You haven’t changed who you are just because you’ve got this diagnosis. You’re still the same person, just in a really difficult situation. People often forget the skills and the resources that they’ve been using fabulously for years and get a bit lost.

Keep doing the things that matter to you

Quite often, some of the first conversations we have with people involve asking, “If you were having a bad day previously, what would have helped?”, or “What type of things are important to you?” Even though you’re tired and you’ve got to come into hospital, how can you make sure you’re still doing things you value and that bring you pleasure?

Watch your thinking

No one is suggesting you shouldn’t be thinking about your situation, but sometimes thoughts can become unbalanced and unhelpful. It’s important to watch how you’re thinking. You might convince yourself things aren’t going well when, actually, they are, for example.

Keep talking

Talking about how you’re feeling is an important part of managing the situation and your distress. It helps make sense of situations, which is something we often want to do when faced with something like a blood cancer diagnosis. There’s something about not suppressing thoughts and feelings, but finding a way to express and explore them with others, that is really helpful.

Find a balance

That said, there is a balance to be struck between focusing too much on the problem or avoiding it altogether. It’s very helpful when people learn to strike a balance between facing the problem head on, talking about it and thinking about how to cope with it, but then putting it away for a while and refocusing on the things you’re passionate about.

Stay connected

It can be difficult to avoid turning inward and introspecting ceaselessly if you’re in hospital for long periods in relative isolation. That’s why it’s important to remain connected, whether it’s to staff in the hospital or loved ones. Use devices and social media such as WhatsApp and FaceTime. They are incredibly helpful ways of remaining connected to life outside the hospital room.

Don’t feel bad about feeling bad

Keeping mentally healthy involves making space for difficult feelings, acknowledging them and understanding you have a right to feel those things. Having compassion or empathy for yourself is key in remaining emotionally well when going through any journey with cancer.

Focus on the present

It’s important to notice when your mind is jumping ahead. Typically, when you’re feeling anxious, you can project into the future and come to negative conclusions which may not be based on what you’re dealing with now. Staying in the present as much as possible can be helpful.

For those undergoing blood cancer treatment, you may be able to find out about the emotional support that could be available for you by asking your medical team.

Read stories of those affected by a blood cancer

You can help Leukaemia UK continue to make a difference to those affected by blood cancer by donating here

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