Mesothelioma Patients, Caregivers Can Manage Coronavirus Anxiety

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As a mental health professional, I have recently seen a significant increase of fear and anxiety related to the COVID-19 virus among the general population as well as with many of my clients.

We are seeing normally healthy and low-risk people exhibit more symptoms of anxiety as they worry about the safety of their loved ones, who may be at risk due to underlying conditions. Many also fear financial hardship if their jobs and health insurance are lost, or their retirement nest egg is diminished.

Mesothelioma patients and caregivers experience all of these concerns and then some.

Our Patient Advocates at The Mesothelioma Center are reporting an influx of calls from mesothelioma patients and caregivers who are looking for support and guidance in managing their own unique medical and emotional challenges during this pandemic.

Coronavirus Spikes Anxiety in Mesothelioma Patients

Everyone experiences anxiety differently, but there are many symptoms I am hearing about from healthy clients and those with a serious illness such as mesothelioma.

The following are commonly reported symptoms of anxiety:

  • Poor sleep: Achieving a good night’s sleep is difficult when we are anxious or fearful. While we can stay distracted during the day, there is lots of free time for our brains to worry about the unknown at night and keep us up.
  • Irritability: When we feel our needs outweigh our resources, we can become irritable. Stay-at-home orders, curfews, scarcity of health and medical supplies and other restrictions are making our lives more challenging. Combine that with having to work from home — or not working at all — while children are off from school. It’s no wonder we are likely to get on each other’s nerves.
  • Fatigue: The steady stream of distressing news updates can feel overwhelming. Adjusting to our new normal and confined environment also zaps our energy.
  • Uncontrollable worry: Although some people worry when there’s nothing to worry about, we are currently and truly facing uncertainty. Some level of worrying is helpful because it can motive us to stay safe, keep our distance from others and pay attention to our health. But when worrying breaks our concentration, affects our memory and disturbs our sleep, it is no longer helpful and may need intervention.

Coronavirus Health Worries for Mesothelioma Patients

For patients newly diagnosed with mesothelioma and beginning the process of developing their treatment plan, there is concern their cancer center may delay treatment due to COVID-19 patients overwhelming our medical system.

Probably their most pressing treatment concern is knowing that chemotherapy or any systemic mesothelioma treatment compromises their immune system.

Patients with pleural mesothelioma may already have respiratory challenges. Because COVID-19 affects breathing, some worry contracting the virus could further aggravate their systems.

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Tips to Manage Anxiety During a Pandemic

Managing anxiety during a pandemic, such as the COVID-19 virus, is important to mesothelioma patients as well as the caregivers and their loved ones who comprise their support system.

Whether it’s coming to terms with the anxiety or staying connected, these tips may help the mesothelioma community better cope with the coronavirus crisis.

Accept That Anxiety Is Normal

The first suggestion is to simply accept that anxiety and fear is absolutely normal during this time. Everyone is experiencing some level of fear from coronavirus. Those with serious health challenges, such as mesothelioma, are at greater risk; and therefore, they may have more fear and anxiety than the general population.

Validating feelings of anxiety is important because many mesothelioma patients feel they must keep a positive attitude to survive. Admitting they have anxiety may contradict that positivity. In my experience, many cancer patients struggle with this pressure to always stay upbeat. Giving ourselves permission to feel all our emotions — the good, the bad and the ugly — allows us to better cope with them, rather than feel shame.

Limit Your News Intake

Try to limit your news consumption. News updates, statistics and warnings keeps our stress response, which is also known as the flight or fight response, operating in high gear. We need to balance staying informed with switching it off when we’ve had our fill.

Stay Connected with Others

Staying connected with others really helps diffuse our anxiety and fear. Connecting in person is difficult if we are maintaining social distancing. Luckily, we can see and hear our loved ones and friends through video chats. We can tell our loved ones that we miss them, share silly videos or memes and sing happy birthday remotely if we can’t be there in person. Online and virtual support groups allow mesothelioma patients and caregivers to connect, share stories and ask questions in real time.

Maintain Your Body and Spirit

We may be unable to do the normal activities that bring us peace or keep us healthy. Most people are having to adjust their routines, diets and schedules to cope with the challenges of social distancing. Some are trying to juggle their mesothelioma treatment schedules. If you regularly attend church or other religious gatherings, it may be possible to watch the service online. If your gym is closed, get out of the house when the weather is good, get some fresh air and move your body. Several early-morning shows provide low-impact exercise routines you can do in your own living room.

You can also find online tutorials on YouTube by searching for topics such as “guided imagery,” “relaxation exercises” or “muscle relaxation exercises.”

Overcoming Fear and Moving Forward Is Possible

When you feel fearful and anxious about the uncertainty of the future amid the coronavirus scare, it may take a little bit of effort to keep those emotions from overwhelming you and your loved ones.

Hopefully, these tips and assurances will help us overcome some of the anxiety we are feeling, move forward and provide us the tools for dealing with these types of crises in the future.

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Mental Health Counselor

Dana Nolan, MS, LMHC, is a licensed mental health counselor who leads The Mesothelioma Center's monthly support group. She specializes in working with individuals affected by cancer. Dana practices in Altamonte Springs, Fla.

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