Coping with Anxiety & Depression



Taking care of a loved one with cancer may be overwhelming and sometimes, it may cause physical and mental exhaustion, sometimes even leading up to anxiety and depression that are not to be taken lightly.

Read up on the signs of anxiety and depression so as to recognise the warning signs early and get tips on how to deal with them.


If you are going through anxiety and/or depression and need to speak to someone about it, do contact our CancerLine hotline, a free and anonymous counselling hotline operated by trained oncology nurses at +65 9722 0569 who will be able to assist you with your situation.


Anxiety is a common emotion that anyone can experience in their everyday lives. It occurs in response to perceived threats and can present as physical, emotional and behavioural reactions.


However, anxiety starts becoming a problem when it:


  • Affects daily life
  • Increases in intensity and/or duration
  • Causes unexplained physical symptoms 
  • Leads to avoidance of situations and places
The term "Anxiety Disorders" includes Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Phobias, Acute and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Although anxiety is a common feature and the different types of anxiety disorders have different symptoms, generally, all respond well to treatment.

How do I relieve anxiety?

These are some tips that may help:

  • Be positive in your thoughts
  • Practice being assertive
  • Feel good about your efforts and accomplishments 
  • Take short breaks through the day to remove yourself from stressors and demands
  • Accept yourself and don't be self-critical 
  • Get adequate rest and sleep
  • Be flexible and be open to the grey area of things 
  • Practice good nutrition
  • Develop realistic goals and work towards them
  • Get a massage to relieve muscle tension and relax
  • Nurture your spirituality
  • Choose to be in environments that feel good to you
  • Distract yourself from stressors and take time to relax
  • Work on your financial security
  • Deep breathing, relaxation, mediation, or visualisation
  • Practice good time management
  • Finding humour in things
  • Practice good communication
  • Spending time with people you enjoy
  • Exercise regularly
  • Keep a journal for venting, and close the entry with something positive
  • Do things that demonstrate respect, care, and nurturing of self
  • Take time regularly to do activities that you enjoy
  • Take good care of yourself
  • Utilise your support system
  • Develop a self-care plan that will form your new and healthy lifestyle

Anxiety Management Tips


Practice Positive Self-Statements

  • It's not going to be as bad as I think
  • It won't last long and I can cope with it
  • I'm getting better and need to rebuild my confidence
  • If I do get bad feelings, I know they won't last long and I can cope with them
  • It's better to go than not to go, worrying doesn't help
  • I might enjoy it if I go
  • Concentrate on what is going on
  • This is just anxiety; it is an unpleasant feeling but it won't make me ill
  • These feelings are unpleasant but not harmful or dangerous
  • I can tolerate anxiety, I have managed it many times before
  • One step at a time
  • Concentrate on what I have to do
  • Remember to relax and think positive
  • I know I'm going to be OK
  • The feelings always fade
  • If I keep this up, I'm going to get really good at this
  • I handled that so it should be easier next time
  • I did that well
  • I can be pleased with the progress I'm making
  • I coped with that
  • I have achieved my goal, I'm getting better



Depression is a word used in everyday language to describe a number of feelings, including sadness, frustration, disappointment, and sometimes lethargy. However, the clinical definition differs from these everyday "down" periods in three main ways:


  • It is more intense
  • It lasts longer
  • It significantly interferes with effective day-to-day functioning
Depression can affect anybody at any stage of their life.

What are the symptoms?


Low mood

Individuals will usually feel low for more than two weeks, depending on the severity of depression. Depression can be classified into mild depression and severe depression. In addition to stress, another mood common to depression is anxiety.

Negative thoughts

Normally, individuals who are depressed have a negative outlook of life, a sense of guilt and low self-esteem and confidence.

Physical symptoms
  • Possible change in sleep patterns - Difficulty falling asleep or have interrupted sleep. Others sleep more and have difficulty staying awake or have early awakenings
  • Possible changes in appetite and weight - Some may experience appetite and weight loss while others eat more than usual
  • Possible decline in sexual interest
  • Fall in energy levels - Constantly feeling lethargic and tired
  • Disinterest - Lack of motivation to carry out everyday activities
Daily interaction with people
  • Unhappy and dissatisfied with family and other close ones
  • Shy and anxious in a group settings
  • Lonely and isolated yet unwilling or unable to reach out to others despite having opportunities to do so

What causes depression?

Depression is often caused by a combination of biological and psychological factors interacting with one another.
Biological Factors
  • Genetic factors - Depression often runs in families, which suggest that individuals may inherit genes that make them vulnerable to developing depression; however, one may inherit an increased vulnerability to the illness, but not necessarily the illness itself. Although many people may inherit this vulnerability, a great many of them may never suffer a depressive illness.
  • Hormones - Research has shown that there are some hormonal changes that may account for some symptoms of depression. Medication can effectively treat these conditions.
  • Brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) - During depression, there is reduced activity of brain chemicals, and this disturbs certain areas of the brain that regulate functions such as sleep, appetite, sexual drive and mood. Many anti-depressant drugs increase the amount of brain chemicals.
Psychological Factors
  • Thinking patterns associated with depression include:
  1. Overstressing the negative
  2. Taking responsibility for bad events but not for good events
  3. Having inflexible rules about how one should behave
  4. Thinking that you know what others are thinking and that they are thinking badly of you
  • Loss of a loved one through bereavement or separation, loss of a job or friendship, loss of promotion or support etc
  • Sense of failure
  • Stress
Pharmacological (e.g. antidepressants) and psychological therapies are available and effective in treating depression.


Depression management tips


#1 Reversing the cycle of depression
  • Medication - Anti-depressants improve the mood and sleep and can help change your energy level
  • Set realistic and achievable goals - This can help you tackle your tasks and responsibilities with success
  • Increasing your activity level - Take parts in activities you enjoy and feel happy doing
Here are some possible fun things you can do:
  • Soaking in the bathtub
  • Collecting things (coins, shells, etc)
  • Going for a day trip
  • Going to see a comedy
  • Going to the beach
  • Having a barbeque with family and/or friends
  • Going for a walk or hike
  • Listening to uplifting music
  • Gardening
Try some of them out and evaluate how you feel before and after the activity. Chances are, you will find that you feel a little better. The important thing is to persist.
#2 Understanding yourself

What really makes us feel and respond the way we do is not the situation or the words and actions of another person, but how we perceive the situation or that person's actions. It is our thoughts and beliefs about an event that significantly influence our feelings and actions. We may not be aware of our thoughts and beliefs as they are often automatic and happen quickly.


If you are feeling anxious, depressed or upset, it is very likely that you have been thinking negative thoughts. These are called unhelpful thoughts as they lead to unpleasant feelings or actions. All of us think about things that make us feel sad or anxious, and that is part and parcel of life. However, if you often feel distressed or upset, you may ned to examine your thoughts in order to improve how you feel.


What are unhelpful thoughts?

Unhelpful thoughts are thought patterns that have become a habit and contribute to a person's negative feelings. Thoughts that are considered unhelpful are:

  • Those that tend to focus on negativity
  • Those that overestimate the chances of a negative event occurring
  • Those that place unrealistic demands on yourself or others

Things you can do to make yourself feel better

  • Identify how or what you are feeling to see how and why you are feeling distressed. Remember, unhelpful thoughts will lead to upsetting emotions.
  • Challenge your thinking by exploring other possible explanations and looking at situations from different viewpoints.
  • Replace your original unhelpful thoughts with positive and helpful beliefs.

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