Battling Brain Fog and Stress While Recovering from Breast Cancer
A breast cancer diagnosis in men is every bit as stressful as it is for women. In a 2014 study published in the journal Breast Care, it is noted that anxiety is greatest before (but persists after) diagnosis and that screening elicits emotional responses, including anxiety and worry about the future. The anxiety response increases if further testing is required. Stress can potentially affect one’s quality of life and treatment outcomes. Therefore, steps must be taken to stop it from taking over our mental wellbeing. Another issue men with breast cancer often have to face is ‘brain fog’: a kind-of ‘cloudy feeling’ in the brain that can occur among patients taking Tamoxifen and those who have had chemotherapy treatment.
Battling Brain Fog
‘Brain fog’ is related to Tamoxifen use, but people also report memory, concentration, and attention problems after chemotherapy. As is the case with brain fog, people can have difficulty remembering new things, finding the right words in conversation, or concentrating. This in turn can trigger depression and anxiety; some patients ask to stop taking Tamoxifen because of its side-effects yet sometimes, going off medication may not be the best idea. To hone your mental sharpness, steps to take include the consumption of a sound, Mediterranean diet (comprising quality protein sources, healthy carbohydrates and antioxidant-rich vegetables). Moreover, ask your doctor about medications such as modafinil or methylphenidate, which can improve focus; there is no single medication that can completely eliminate brain fog, but these may be helpful in reducing symptoms.
Make sure to engage in regular physical activity. Aerobic exercise and mindfulness based exercises such as yoga or Tai Chi will help boost your concentration and keep stress in check. Don’t take on more commitments than you can realistically fulfill, and when you have free time, consider brain training games such as Dual N-Back, proven in many studies to hone the working memory.
The Risk of Depression
As mentioned above, stress and anxiety are common among patients with breast cancer (both men and women). However, depression (which affects between 15% and 25% of cancer patients) may also be an issue. Mild depression can be treated with counseling, but when it is severe and persistent, medication may be recommended.
Steps to Reduce Stress
Because both anxiety and depression are stress-related, it is vital for those with male breast cancer to take proactive measures to keep it at bay. Simple exercises such as abdominal breathing work well to lower the heart rate and stop anxiety in its track; there are a host of free online apps that accompany users on exercises lasting as little as five minutes. Other approaches that have proven successful to reduce cancer-related stress and to remove mood, are mindfulness meditation and yoga; the latter relies on a powerful combination of asanas (physical postures), breathing, and mindfulness. Meditation, meanwhile, aims at keeping the mind ‘in the here and now’. Patients can acknowledge negative emotions such as fear and sadness, yet obtain a ‘healthy distance’ from these feelings. Mindfulness meditation starts from the premise that all things are impermanent; even the most powerful of emotions.
Obtaining Help from an Occupational Therapist
In addition to seeking psychological help of required for stress, occupational therapy (OT) can be useful. OT focuses on helping you manage day-to-day tasks, teaching you strategies of memorization, organization, and the like. Feeling more confident about your ability to cope can reduce stress considerably, boosting your self-confidence and mood.
Brain fog and stress-related mental conditions are related, since a sensation that it is difficult to concentrate or find the right word to use, can exacerbate one’s anguish. See your doctor about how to tackle these side-effects of medication and of cancer itself. A multi-faceted approach involving diet, exercise, and stress relieving therapies should be considered to improve your quality of life.