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Ways to look after your mental health

If you feel ready, there are lots of practical things that may improve your mental health. Remember, support means something different to everyone. It can mean reaching out to others, or it can be about taking some time for yourself to focus on your mental needs. Different methods of coping work for different people, so take some time to figure out what works for you.

On this page, we talk through a few ideas that may help if you are struggling with your mental health. In this section, we also have a page on:

Who to talk to

For many people, not feeling able to share their emotions can make them worse. You may begin to feel overwhelmed or isolated by your thoughts, or feel that no one else would understand. While it’s true we each have our own experiences, sometimes just having someone to listen can help. 

If you aren’t sure where to start, talking to someone can be a good first step. You might have a strong support network of family and friends, or you may feel more isolated, but either way there are people who may be able to help. 

If talking feels too difficult at first, you may want to write your feelings down, to help you understand how you’re feeling and how you want to express it.

Family and friends

Some people like to talk with a friend or family member they already have a relationship with and trust. To start with, think about who you would find it easiest to confide in and see how this goes. You can build up confidence to speak to others at your own pace.

Are you a friend or family member of someone with cervical cancer? Read our blog filled with tips on how to support your loved one >

Your healthcare team

Depending on how long ago your diagnosis was, your healthcare team could be a number of different people, including your GP or your clinical nurse specialist (CNS). If you feel comfortable, you can share how you are feeling with them and explore what might help you. Often your team can be a good source of emotional support in their own right. 

Expert support

Some people find it helpful to talk to a professional counsellor or psychologist. There is no shame in doing this – we all need some extra support sometimes and these trained professionals may offer the help you’re looking for. 

You can ask whether your healthcare team can refer you to a psycho-oncology team. This is expert emotional support for people who have had cancer, usually ranging from general counselling to dealing with specific issues, such as changes to your sex life and fertility. 

Not all hospitals have psycho-oncology teams. If your hospital doesn’t, your healthcare team should be able to tell you about similar services in your local area. 

Your GP may be able to refer you for free counselling through the NHS. If you are interested in private counselling, the following organisations list accredited therapists:

Others affected by cervical cancer

You might also want to talk with others who have had similar experiences and a better idea of what you are going through. There are lots of ways to do this, either in person or online. 

If you are already on social media, you may find others to connect with in private groups or more publically. You may want to join our online Forum, which is a safe space where you can share any worries and get or give support to others. It has a thread for coping after cervical cancer treatment. 

Join the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust Forum > 

Two women talking at Lets Meet Every September, we also hold a get together in London for people affected by cervical cancer called Let’s Meet. It’s a chance to chat with others, get some support, and hear from experts on different topics. 

Come and see us at Let’s Meet > 

If you can’t make it to Let’s Meet, we host similar events across the UK called Mini Meets.

Find a Mini Meet in your area >
 

Other things that may help

Find out the facts for you

If there are issues related to your cancer that are impacting your mental health then it may be helpful to discuss these with your healthcare team so you can ask any questions you have and ensure you have the right information for you. It can also help to know what to do in the future if you have any concerns and feel that you have access to the right care. Make sure you get a clear shared plan with your healthcare team to reduce any worry and anxiety. 

Know and prepare for your triggers

If there are certain parts of your cancer care and treatment that you know are triggering difficult thoughts and feelings you can perhaps plan what may help you at these times. Talking this through with friends, family and your healthcare team can also be helpful as you can let other people know what you might need from them. There may also be support groups that understand these challenges and can be a useful space to get ideas and support.

Managing your thinking

Feeling positive all the time is unrealistic, especially when facing cancer, so having difficult thoughts and feelings is normal. While these emotions can feel uncomfortable, sometimes you don’t have to respond or make them go away – instead, allow yourself to feel them and then let it pass. 

Sometimes, these difficult emotions can take over and encourage further negative thoughts and feelings. If this happens, it can be helpful to check in with your thinking. Try asking yourself some of these questions: 

  • ‘What would I say to a friend or loved one if they had the same thought?’
  • ‘Is this thought accurate or is there any evidence that suggests there is another way of seeing things?’
  • ‘Am I jumping to conclusions or imagining the worst?’ 

Doing this can help to balance your thinking. For example, in response to thinking ‘I look different so everyone is going to stare at me’, you could balance this out to something like ‘Some people may look at me, but others probably won’t notice – and even if they do, that may not be for bad reasons’. 

Mindfulness can be a helpful way to enable you to notice difficult thoughts and feelings, allowing them to come and go then gently re-directing your focus to the here-and-now. There are plenty of online resources and apps you can try. You could also talk to your healthcare team or GP about any local groups. 

Read Mind’s information about mindfulness > 

Make time for yourself and do things you enjoy

You may feel like you’ve lost a sense of ‘self’ because of treatment and its side effects, and aren’t sure how to get it back. This may be psychological or it may be triggered by how you feel physically, which can have a real impact on your mental health. 

We spoke with people affected by cervical cancer who recommended taking some time to do the things you enjoy. This could be as simple as having a long bath or shower, treating yourself to a spa day, or sitting quietly with a book. Give yourself permission to make a space for just doing whatever you enjoy and makes you feel like you.

Keeping active

Keeping active is a great way to keep your body and mind as healthy and busy as possible. It has also been proven to improve how we feel, including reducing any feelings of anxiety or stress . 

It is important to get advice from your healthcare team before doing any physical activity. They know your individual situation and can advise on the right activity for you.  

Remember, keeping active doesn’t mean running a marathon. There are lots of ways to do it:

  • Go for a brisk, 10-minute walk. 
  • Do some housework that gets you moving.
  • Do some gardening.
  • Join a local class or club.

Read more about exercise on the NHS website > 

You may know the type of exercise you want to do, or you may be open to trying different things. Some activities, like yoga or Pilates, help strengthen your body, as well as offering mental support with breathing exercises to focus your mind. 

If you are having any effects after treatment, yoga and Pilates also help to build your core stability. This means they help make the muscles around your pelvis, including your pelvic floor muscles, back and tummy stronger. Strong pelvic floor muscles help with some bladder problems, like urinary incontinence.

Read more about living with side effects > 

Some organisations, like Maggie’s, offer free classes specifically for people wanting to get active after treatment for cancer. If you go to a regular exercise class and feel comfortable, you could have a quiet word with the teacher to explain your situation. This means they can make adjustments if needed.

Read more about keeping active with Maggie’s > 

You might not like the idea of keeping active, especially if you haven’t been able to exercise for a while or feel conscious of your body after treatment. Try to remember not to compare yourself with anyone else – you know best what feels right for you and your body. 

Focus on healthy lifestyle choices

A balanced diet means eating a variety of foods in the right proportions, as well as being aware of what you drink. It can help you feel better in yourself, give you more energy and make you healthier.

It is important to speak with your healthcare team about what a balanced diet means for you, as they will be able to advise based on your individual situation. 

If you smoke, quitting can improve your physical and mental health . It may be a challenge to stop, especially at a time when routine can feel comforting, but if you choose to there are lots of resources available to support you.

Read about stopping smoking on the NHS website > 

Complementary therapies 

Complementary therapies covers a wide range of therapies, including energy based therapies (such as reflexology, touch based therapy), massage therapy, hypnotherapy, mindfulness, and art and music therapy. 

Any medical treatment you have in hospital is conventional medicine. This means it has been through trials, has been approved, and evidence shows the benefits outweigh the risks. Complementary therapies can be used alongside conventional treatments for cancer and can help some people cope with the symptoms of disease and its treatment, aid relaxation, and reduce tension and anxiety. Although there is no scientific evidence that complementary therapies work, we know that they are used by more than 1 in 3 people with cancer and many report finding them helpful . 

Read more about complementary therapies on Macmillan Cancer Support’s website > 

It is important to remember that these therapies are not treating the cancer and do not take the place of your conventional treatment. You should always get advice from your healthcare team before using any complementary therapies to make sure they are safe and right for you. You may need to try a few different types, to find which work best for you. 

If you have a cancer support centre in your area, it may offer different complementary therapies and activities. These are usually free and done by a qualified therapist. 

Find your local cancer support centre:

Journaling and other creative activities

Some people with cancer find writing down their feelings and experiences helps them process everything. You may wish to keep a daily journal or simply have a notebook there if you feel like writing anything. 

Other creative activities, such as drawing, painting or creative writing, can be a helpful way of expressing any emotions in a safe space. 

Your local cancer support centre or hospice may offer these sorts of activities free. You can contact them directly for more details.

Hospices

Many people think hospices are only for those who are very sick or dying, so the idea of using one may be scary. But you don’t have to feel scared, because hospices have services for people at lots of different stages. They sometimes have therapists trained to offer physical and emotional support to improve your quality of life, even if the cancer is not advanced. 

You can speak with your GP or clinical nurse specialist (CNS) to get some more information or ask for a referral to your local hospice. Or you could call or email the hospice directly to get information about any support they can offer. 

Find a hospice in your area > 

Remind yourself of what’s helped before

Cancer may not be the first difficult thing you have faced in your life. Remind yourself of how you have managed and overcome challenges in the past, and especially what has helped you when experiencing difficult thoughts and feelings. See if there are ways that you have looked after your mental health before that could help now.

More information and support

There are lots of organisations, like Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, that offer support if you are looking for practical ways to improve your mental health. If you want to talk, our trained volunteers are ready to listen – call our free Helpline on 0808 802 8000

Check our Helpline opening hours > 

You may want to use our online forum, to see what others affected by cervical cancer have tried. 

Join our online Forum > 

If you have a medical question about anything we’ve talked about on this page, submit it via our Ask the Expert service. 

Use our Ask the Expert service > 

If you are a loved one looking for ways to support someone with a diagnosis, we have some tips that may help.

Read our blog on supporting someone with cervical cancer >

Other useful organisations and tools

Breathing Space
Provides information and support about mental health for people in Scotland, including a free phone line and webchat service (Monday to Friday, 6pm to 10pm). 
www.breathingspace.scot
Phone: 0800 83 85 87 (24 hours at weekends – 6pm on Friday to 6am on Monday, then 6pm to 2am on weekdays – from Monday to Thursday).

Headspace
Headspace is an app on mobile phones and computers. It aims to help people practice mindfulness, giving them an opportunity to turn attention inwards and develop a sense of acceptance for their experience.
www.headspace.com

Hospice UK
Has a database listing adult and children's hospice care providers in the UK.
www.hospiceuk.org 

Look good, feel better
Offers workshops, as well as online and printed information, on managing appearance-related side effects for people undergoing cancer treatment.
www.lookgoodfeelbetter.co.uk

Macmillan Cancer Support
Provides information and support about coping with emotions during and after cancer, including via a free Support Line.
www.macmillan.org.uk
Support Line: 0808 808 00 00 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm)

Maggie’s Centres
Offers free practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer and their family and friends. Find your nearest centre on the Maggie’s website.
www.maggiescentres.org
Email:
[email protected]

Mind
Provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem.
www.mind.org.uk
Infoline: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm – except for bank holidays)
Email: [email protected]

Trekstock
Supports young adults with cancer in their 20s and 30s by providing information and support programmes to help them deal with the emotional and physical impact of cancer, and to help get them moving once treatment ends.
www.trekstock.com

Thank you to all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it.

References

  • Molassiotis et al, Use of complementary and alternative medicine in cancer patients: a European survey, Annals of Oncology, 2005.
  • NHS, 10 health benefits of stopping smoking, www.nhs.uk/live-well/quit-smoking, Accessed January 2019.
  • Mikkelsen K. et al, Exercise and mental health, Maturitas, 2017.

We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about all the references we used, please contact [email protected]

Support events

Come to a support event to meet other people who have had a cervical cancer diagnosis.

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Date last updated: 
09 Oct 2019
Date due for review: 
01 Oct 2022

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