Coping with Stress

People diagnosed with breast cancer have many unique sources of stress.

Here, we discuss some healthy ways to help deal with this stress.

Social support


Social support is the emotional support, practical help and advice you get from your co-survivors.

Co-survivors may include:

  • Spouses or partners
  • Family members
  • Friends
  • Spiritual advisors
  • Spiritual communities (such as churches, synagogues and mosques)
  • Co-workers and supervisors
  • Health care providers
  • Therapists or counselors
  • Other people living with cancer
  • Online or e-mail discussion groups

Learn more about co-survivors.

Support groups

Many people diagnosed with breast cancer expand and strengthen their emotional support systems by joining a breast cancer support group.

Learn more about support groups.

Benefits of social support

Breast cancer survivors can benefit from social support. Whether it’s informal support from family and friends, or more formal support from group or individual therapy, social support can improve your quality of life [17,127].

Breast cancer survivors who have more social support tend to cope better emotionally than those with little support [17,127].

Learn more about the benefits of social support.

Learn more about quality of life during breast cancer treatment and quality of life after breast cancer treatment.

Counseling (psychotherapy)

Talking with a trained mental health provider (such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor or clinical social worker) can reduce distress and improve mental well-being and quality of life for breast cancer survivors [128].

Some people prefer one-on-one counseling. Others prefer counseling in a group setting.

Mental health counseling may combine techniques such as coping skills training and relaxation exercises to help reduce stress.

Learn more about psychotherapy.

Learn more about support groups.

Mindfulness meditation (mindfulness-based stress reduction)

With mindfulness meditation (including mindfulness-based stress reduction), you are aware of your thoughts and feelings, but do not interpret or judge them.

Mindfulness meditation uses breathing methods and may include guided imagery as well as other relaxation and stress reduction techniques.

Some findings show mindfulness meditation can reduce stress, anxiety, fear of recurrence and fatigue in breast cancer survivors [107,129-130]. It can also improve quality of life [130].

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a special type of mental health counseling that may combine techniques such as relaxation exercises. It can reduce anxiety [131].

Some research findings show cognitive behavioral therapy may reduce fear of recurrence and distress for breast cancer survivors [132-134]. It may also help reduce fatigue [135].

At this time, few people are trained in cognitive behavioral therapy and it is not widely available.

Physical activity (exercise)

Being active is a healthy way for breast cancer survivors to deal with daily stress. Regular exercise (such as yoga) can help reduce stress and anxiety and give you a sense of control over your body [15-18,20,130,136-138].

You don’t have to do a lot to get a benefit. Even simple activities (such as walking several times a week or yoga) can improve quality of life [15,130].

Physical activity can also reduce fatigue [139-144].

The American Cancer Society recommends cancer survivors aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week [145].

Learn about physical activity and breast cancer survival.

Learn about other benefits of physical activity for breast cancer survivors.

Other ways to cope with stress

Other ways to lower stress and anxiety include [130]: