From diagnosis on, cancer patients experience a wide range of emotions. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), it's common for patients to feel worry, stress, anxiety, depression, and anger.

While these are understandable reactions to an illness, they can have serious consequences if not properly managed. Research finds patients with depression reduce participation in medical care and have prolonged hospital stays. Depression significantly affects quality of life—and even survival.

It's important to put as much effort into your mental well-being as your physical health. Here's how:

1. Exercise. Physical activity, especially outdoors, has both physical and emotional benefits. Exercise gives people with cancer a sense of control over their lives and releases feel-good hormones that boosts mood and eases anxiety and depression.

2. Listen to music. Research shows that music therapy and music medical interventions may be useful as a complementary treatment for people with cancer. Listening to music has a beneficial effect on anxiety, pain, mood, and quality of life.

3. Seek support. While support groups are not for everyone, some people find that sharing experiences and feelings with others who've gone through similar experiences is very helpful. Your hospital or cancer center may offer a support group, or can refer you to other organizations that do.

4. Be informed. The more you know about your illness, the more confident you will feel making decisions about treatment options and other aspects of your care. Information is power and helps reduce feelings of helplessness.

5. Get help for depression. Depression is a real mental health condition, not something you simply "get over." If you feel sad most of the time, lose pleasure in activities you once enjoyed, or experience changes in appetite and sleep routines that you can't attribute directly to your illness, seek help from a qualified mental health professional. Physicians usually treat depression with medications, therapy, or both.

6. Look for the positive. No one wants to become ill. However, some people—once diagnosed with cancer—find that a serious illness forces them to think about what's really important and instills a sense of appreciation for the little things.

7. Find meaning. The NCI says many survivors find that faith, religion, or a sense of spirituality bolsters their strength. Some give back through volunteer activities, using their experience and empathy to help others with cancer.

8. Learn coping skills. Studies show that active coping strategies and acceptance improve quality of life and relieve symptoms of depression and hopelessness. Successful coping may play an even more important role than medical- or treatment-related factors for predicting quality of life.




National Cancer Institute. "Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment." Web. 31 July 2012.

National Cancer Institute. "Depression (PDQ®)." Web. 12 December 2012.

Nelson, Roxanne. "Depression Affects Survival in Cancer Patients." Medscape Medical News. 14 September 2009.

van Laarhoven, Hanneke W.M., MA, MD, PhD, Schilderman, Johannes, PhD, Bleijenberg, Gijs, PhD, Donders, Rogier, PhD, Vissers, Kris C., MD, PhD, Verhagen, Constans A.H. H. V. M., MD, PhD, and Prins, Judith B., PhD. "Coping, Quality of Life, Depression, and Hopelessness in Cancer Patients in a Curative and Palliative, End-of-Life Care Setting." Cancer Nursing 34(4) (2011): 302-314. Web. Medscape Medical News.

Nelson, Roxanne. "Music Lowers Anxiety and Boosts Mood in Cancer Patients." Medscape Medical News. Web. 12 August 2011.