Are you experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder? Here’s what to do

August 30, 2017 | by Amaryllis Gil, MD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a very real and raw anxiety disorder someone faces after they have gone through a traumatic experience. PTSD can occur after facing a life-threatening situation like combat, a natural disaster or a car accident. You can also suffer from PTSD after learning you have cancer and at any point along your journey.

It’s very normal to feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster ride when dealing with cancer. You may feel up one day and down the next. Or you may have a case of survivor’s guilt. If you continue to struggle with feelings of anxiety over time, and if your feelings get in the way of daily life, you may be suffering from PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD usually appear within three months of a traumatic event, last longer than a month and severely affect daily life. In some cases, symptoms don’t appear for years after the event.  

Symptoms of PTSD for people with cancer and cancer survivors can include:

  • Nightmares and flashbacks
  • Avoiding places, events, people or things that bring back bad memories
  • Strong feelings of guilt, hopelessness or shame
  • Trouble sleeping or concentrating
  • Continuous feelings of fear or anger
  • Loss of interest in activities and relationships that used to be enjoyable
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drug or alcohol abuse
  • Frightening or unwanted thoughts
  • Difficulty feeling emotions

If you are suffering from PTSD, you are not alone. Research suggests as many as 1 in 3 cancer patients suffers from PTSD. According to a recent study, about 80 percent of women have PTSD symptoms after a breast cancer diagnosis. 

The good news is that PTSD is treatable and it can be managed through:

  • A PTSD treatment plan developed by your doctor or therapist
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating a healthy diet to give your body the nutrients it needs
  • Avoiding caffeine and nicotine – they increase stress levels
  • Not using alcohol or drugs to cope
  • Learning new habits when you feel anxious, like learning a new hobby or taking a walk around the block
  • Surrounding yourself with supportive people and discussing your feelings with them
  • Joining a support group to meet others in your situation

There are also complementary therapies for coping with PTSD like music therapy, aromatherapy, guided imagery, journaling or meditation. 

If you feel like your symptoms aren’t going away or are getting worse, it is important to tell your doctor. People with cancer who have PTSD need help because the disorder can keep you from getting important tests, treatments or follow-up care. Your doctor can help get you on the right track to feeling better. 

Get supportive resources to help you through the cancer journey.

Related blogs:

Could I have post-traumatic stress disorder?

Learn more about dealing with mood swings after treatment.

Discover 6 tips to fight the fear of cancer returning



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