It’s common to feel lonely
When you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s very common to feel lonely – especially if you don’t know anyone else who has been through it or is going through it.
You might look at someone else with breast cancer and feel anxious, fearing that you may also have to face what they’re going through. It’s also not uncommon to feel guilty that you are needing less treatment than someone else.
But every breast cancer diagnosis is slightly different and as a result, the breast cancer treatment that people go through can differ as well. Whilst this may not make you feel less lonely, it’s important to understand that everybody going through breast cancer will be having a unique experience.
Putting on a brave face
Putting on a brave face is a thing you may think is necessary out of a sense of caring, so as not to burden your nearest and dearest with your worries about breast cancer and its treatment; your fears of dying, your fear of leaving behind children, or your fear of letting down people in their lives including work colleagues. The problem with putting on a brave face is that it can make you feel very lonely inside.
These are all normal emotional responses
All these emotional responses are quite normal, particularly when you feel that your world has been turned upside down by the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. You have entered into a world of uncertainty which carries its own level of loneliness within it. Your life feels more uncertain than those around you.
Reactions from friends and families
Friends and family can often react in unexpected ways as they are also going through their own emotional journey in relation to your breast cancer. They have their own concerns and fears and uncertainties. It’s particularly difficult when people close to us disappear from our circle of support once they hear the word ‘breast cancer’ – it can feel very lonely.
It’s hard to realise that they are not able to cope with your and/or their own suffering. You often find the most unexpected people come forward to offer support to you at this time whilst people who you would expect to be there for you fade into the background.
Being physically alone
You can also feel lonely as a result of being physically alone, something that has been exacerbated for a lot of people by the current Covid 19 pandemic. If you need to self-isolate due to risks of coronavirus, you’ll likely feel much more isolated than normal as well as having less comfort from physical contact with friends, family and colleagues. In brief, your world may feel it has shrunk in a way you have not known before.
If you are alone, are you also lonely?
There is a difference between being alone and being lonely – this is the difference in how you feel within yourself. We are all social beings, being social is a primitive need and our survival depends on connecting with others.
Losing these daily human connections and interactions can have one of two effects or a mixture of the two. If you are feeling strong and resilient, you might embrace the extra time to yourself that comes with shielding – you have time to relax and get on with hobbies and interests.
However, if you are feeling lonely, being alone for weeks and months with reduced social interactions can leave you feeling quite desperate. Feeling lonely reduces your levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine with the effect of lowering your mood and possibly leading to feelings of depression, anxiety and even hopelessness.
What steps can I take to support myself?
First things first:
- The first step is to acknowledge that you are feeling lonely or any other emotion that is here. If ‘we name it, we can tame it’ as the saying goes.
- Allow yourself to feel the emotion and know that it is part of being human to feel like this. There is nothing wrong with that. Can you bring some kindness to yourself? Just like you would to a friend in a similar situation.
Other things you can do:
- Eat regular, healthy meals and stay hydrated
- Take your daily exercise if you’re able to – outside in nature if possible
- Stay in touch – Host a Zoom, Skype or Google Hangout call with friends or call them on the phone (listen to how they are but also be sure to share how you are too)
- Plan something to look forward to (a film, a healthy treat, a walk, even plans for after lockdown)
- These steps can help you feel better but also help you to rebalance your brain’s chemistry by releasing some of your feel-good brain chemicals – serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin – and boost your wellbeing.
- Read more about loneliness on the NHS website