Close navigation

Anxiety and brain tumours

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, and is often a response to challenging or threatening events and scenarios – for example an upcoming job interview.

Often these feelings are short-term, but for ongoing events and situations, such as being diagnosed with a brain tumour and undergoing treatment, these feelings may persist. Anxiety can be mild or severe, constant or intermittent, for example, when waiting for the results of a scan.

It’s important to realise that feeling anxious is a normal, if unpleasant, part of life and whatever your level of anxiety, you’re not alone. Many people with brain tumours will feel anxious at some point and there’s a lot of support available.

While feeling anxious is completely natural, if anxiety starts to impact your daily life, it could be indicative of an anxiety disorder. You should not feel reluctant to talk to your GP about anxiety if you’re worried about how it is affecting you.

If you are affected by a brain tumour and feel you cannot cope with your current situation, you can call our Support & Information Line.

If you need someone to talk to outside office hours, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123.

How do I know if what I’m feeling is anxiety?

There are many symptoms of anxiety and not everybody will experience the in the same way. Some people have only 1 or 2, while others have many more or experience individual symptoms more severely. 

What are the physical symptoms of anxiety?

The following are common physical symptoms of anxiety:

  • Your heart beats very fast and/or irregularly
  • You breathe very fast
  • You feel dizzy
  • You sweat more than normal
  • Your stomach churns or feels upset
  • Your mouth feels dry
  • You can’t eat
  • Your muscles get tense or feel weak
  • You have trouble sleeping
  • You get headaches.

What are the emotional symptoms of anxiety?

The following are some of the common emotional symptoms of anxiety:

  • You’re irritable
  • You feel like you want to run away from the situation
  • You find it hard to concentrate on anything else
  • You feel constantly on edge or alert to everything around you.

Coping with anxiety

There are many ways to help deal with your anxiety. Here are some simple tips on coping with anxiety, taken from the experiences of patients, friends, family and carers.

Find the one which works best for you.

Distract yourself

It seems simple, but keeping busy can be a good way to keep your mind off your worries. Many people have found that starting a new hobby, taking a trip or having a day out are great distractions, while something as straightforward as reading a book, watching a film or spending time with loved ones can be a positive way to keep anxiety at bay.

Talk to others

Talking to others in a similar situation can be a powerful tool to help reduce your anxieties and gain support. We currently run four closed Facebook groups for people affected by a brain tumour and they can be great place for you to start.

We recognise the unique challenges that different people face when living with a brain tumour and have support groups for:

  • Anyone affected by a brain tumour diagnosis
  • Young adults aged 16-30, living with or beyond a brain tumour diagnosis
  • Parents, who have a child under 18 living with a brain tumour
  • Carers.

You may also like to share your story more widely. This may not only be therapeutic for you, but may help others who have similar worries and anxieties.

Of course, sharing widely may not be for you, but talking to selected others can still help and chatting with a close friend who isn’t in the same situation can provide a fresh perspective. Do what feels right for you!

Practice mindfulness

While mindfulness may not be for everyone, it has been shown to reduce levels of anxiety in some people living with brain tumours.

Mindfulness will naturally be difficult to begin with, but it does get easier with practice - the key is to stick at it and keep trying. It’s important to remember there’s no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness.

The NHS provides several tips on their website on how to practice mindfulness:

  • Be aware of the everyday and note the small things about your surroundings.
    For example, go for a walk and notice the leaves blowing on the trees or take note of the sensations of what you are eating – this can help keep your mind in the present.
  • Try something new.
    This can be as simple as taking a different route to the shops or to school to pick up your children. If you’re working, you could try sitting in a different seat for meetings or going somewhere new for lunch.
  • Watch your thoughts.
    This isn’t about making your thoughts go away, but picturing them as mental events that don’t have to control you. Think of them as buses that come and go – when they arrive, you don’t have to get on them, you can just watch them pass.
  • Name your thoughts and feelings.
    Silently or verbally noting what you’re feeling, for example “This is anxiety” or “I’m feeling anxious about my scan results”, can help give you a greater awareness of your emotions. Once you’ve identified what you’re feeling, it can be easier to cope with and sometimes noting a feeling is enough for it to pass.

You may find it difficult to ‘be in the moment’ and practice being mindful, but there are a number of tools that can help. Sitting meditation, yoga and tai-chi can be helpful practices to stay in the present, away from anxieties and physical resources can be downloaded from the internet – for example, free adult mindfulness colouring sheets.

Psychological therapies

If your anxiety is affecting your daily life, you may want to consider psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or applied relaxation. These can offered in different ways, for example, using a self-help workbook, as an online course, one-to-one or in a group.

CBT

CBT helps you recognise and overcome your anxious thoughts by changing negative patterns in the way you think and behave. Although it’s sometimes called a talking therapy, CBT provides practical ways to improve your current state of mind rather than focusing on issues from your past.

It involves working with a clinical psychologist or other mental health professional in regular sessions over a period of time and can be provided by the NHS. You can self-refer for CBT. This means that, while you do need to be registered with a GP, they don’t need to refer you for treatment.

Applied relaxation

Applied relaxation involves learning how to relax your muscles in a particular way whenever you feel anxious. It needs to be taught by a trained therapist, who will meet you for regular sessions over a period of time. As with CBT, you can get applied relaxation therapy on the NHS and self-refer.

How do I find psychological therapies services?

For NHS psychological therapies services, you can find the service provider closest to you using the online tool.

Or, you can pay to access psychological therapies services privately. The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) has a register of accredited therapists in the UK, and The British Psychological Society (BPS) has a directory of chartered psychologists.

Medication

If your anxiety is particularly severe, and none of the suggestions above have worked or you don’t feel they are right for you, you may want to speak to your GP about medication.

There are a variety of medications that can be used to treat anxiety. Some can only be taken for a short time, but others can be prescribed long-term. Your GP will let you know about any likely side-effects and make sure any new medication won't interfere with treatments you’re having for your brain tumour.

If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:

Information and Support line

0808 800 0004 (free from landlines and mobiles)

support@thebraintumourcharity.org

Phone lines open Mon-Fri, 09:00-17:00

You can also join our active online community on Facebook - find out more about our groups.