Emotional Wellness Month
Positive Mental Health During Cancer Treatment
The National Center for Emotional Wellness defines emotional wellness as “an awareness, understanding, and acceptance of your emotions, and your ability to manage effectively through challenges and change.” October is Emotional Wellness Month in the United States. As we enter the cooling months of the Autumn season, we focus on how parents can help their children cope with the emotional roller coaster that comes with cancer treatment. For an average American, on any given day, life can be full of stressful events. Hectic schedules, a flat tire on the way to an important event, spilling coffee on a brand-new iPhone. Everyday life can bring stress and anxiety. Minor annoyances are nothing compared to receiving the news that your young child has cancer. How children cope with this news and how parents and guardians help them process this diagnosis can profoundly affect how they get through their cancer journey.
Finding Emotional Stability During Chaotic Times
The organization Mental Health America estimates that over 40 million Americans suffer from at least one mental health problem. Emotional well-being can affect overall health. Mental stress can impact physical health and weaken the immune system, so providing emotional support for vulnerable children battling cancer is crucial. Young cancer patients will face many obstacles during treatment, some will adapt, but others will need help to cope with cognitive, behavioral, and social issues.
There are many challenges during cancer treatment that will have a damaging impact on mental health. Children cope with physical and emotional development on an average day; during cancer treatment, these brave kids survive the often painful physical symptoms of both the disease and treatment side effects. Constant worry about their future, the day-to-day uncertainty that comes with changing daily routine, and constantly being separated from family and friends during treatment. As their tiny, fragile bodies go through trauma, so will their mental health. Negative feelings lead to stress and sadness. Parents can feel helpless as to how they can help. Just being there is a critical way to help their child feel safe and secure, but that may not be enough. So parents should not be afraid to reach out to their care team for emotional support.
Reaching Out for Professional Support
Most pediatric care teams consist of doctors and nurses and include psychological and behavioral health resources. Using these services can help diagnose if more serious mental health issues are developing due to cancer or medication. Some psychiatrists specialize in balancing and stabilizing the brain chemistry of children experiencing side effects from cancer drugs. Having mental health care professionals on your team can benefit emotional wellness by giving your child a safe, non-judgmental place to talk about the issues causing fear and stress. Seek them out! They can also offer encouragement and drug therapy during a difficult time, especially if high-dose steroids are causing behavioral and psychological issues.
If you don’t believe a mental health professional is required, other people in their life can help provide emotional stability. Maintaining relationships with friends and family is essential during cancer treatment. These relationships help make a kid feel normal during a frightening and confusing time. Keeping in touch during an ever-changing pandemic can be difficult. In-person contact might not be possible at times, but a Zoom chat, a phone call, or even cards and letters can bring a smile to a child’s face.
During the cancer journey, many people will come into your life. Some of those will be families going through the same type of fight. Knowing that others are sharing the same worries and feelings as your child can be a positive thing in a strange way. Those children know what your child is going through, and support from a peer can help to bring emotional steadiness in your child’s life. Your child’s care team may also provide more resources about support groups available at your hospital.
Fun and creative activities can foster emotional wellness. One method parents can use is art therapy to reduce anxiety and depression. Art is a creative expression for children of any age, and through exercises such as drawing or painting, children can enhance physical and emotional well-being. There are many benefits of this type of therapy, from improving motor skills and reducing stress to increasing self-esteem and even helping to provide a distraction during long days in the hospital.
Here for Emotional Support
Emotional wellness may not be a top priority during a cancer battle, but it is essential to remember that mental health is a significant part of living well. Feelings of sadness, anger, hopelessness, or other negative emotions can have an impact on your child’s immune system and physical well-being during and after treatment. Remember, as parents, you are the beacon of hope and stability your child is looking to for help. If you feel overwhelmed, do not go through this alone, there is assistance and hope available. Here to Serve is one such organization ready to step in and provide support and resources to take some of the burdens off your mind, body, and spirit.
By Chris Smith