12 ways to help manage cancer-related fatigue

Cancer-related fatigue
It takes a lot of energy to battle a disease like cancer. So, it’s no wonder fatigue is a common side effect of the disease.

Coping with a serious illness like cancer often requires a tremendous amount of effort. So, it’s no wonder you may feel fatigued while coping with the symptoms, side effects and stresses that may come with cancer. Your body also requires energy to heal itself in response to cancer treatments. The type of cancer treatment you receive may determine the pattern of fatigue you experience. Cancer treatments commonly associated with fatigue include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, immunotherapy, stem cell transplant and/or a combination of treatments.

Cancer-related fatigue may impact your physical, psychological and emotional well-being. You may feel like you don’t have enough energy to keep up with your usual daily routine, including work and social activities, and even your cancer treatment plan. In addition, fatigue may affect your mood, emotions and concentration, how you feel about yourself, and your relationships with others.

Tips for managing cancer-related fatigue

Talking about cancer-related fatigue and understanding its causes may help you and your care team identify ways to help you cope with and manage it. In addition to the help your doctor provides, below are steps you can take to help alleviate your fatigue.

Keep a regular and reasonable daily routine. You may feel extra tired because you’re still trying to keep up with your former routine. It helps to prioritize your activities so you can use your energy on those most important to you. Try easier, shorter versions of the activities you enjoy, spread your activities throughout the day during times you feel best, and take rest breaks in between activities.

Plan rest periods throughout the day. Set aside time to rest and take short, frequent naps throughout the day (rather than one long nap). Limit naps to about 30 minutes each and try not to nap too late in the afternoon. If you can, rest before you become fatigued and follow a nap with an activity or light exercise. Keep in mind that too much rest may actually decrease your energy level and make you feel more tired.

Maintain proper nutrition. Cancer and cancer treatment often put extra demands on your body for calories, nutrients and fluids. A well-balanced diet may give your body the energy it needs to heal and function, while also helping you feel more energized. Your diet should include a balance of fruits, vegetables, protein, carbohydrates and fat, as well as plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. If you’re having trouble eating, try frequent, small meals rather than large meals. A dietitian may be able to help you develop a meal plan tailored for you.

Stay as active as you can. Lack of physical activity, which may result from the illness and/or its treatment, may lead to tiredness and lack of energy. Regular, light exercise (e.g., a 15-minute walk three times a week) may help you stay active, increase your energy and strength, and provide an overall sense of well-being. Start slowly (before fatigue sets in, if possible) and work up to the level that suits you, but don’t overdo it. A physical therapist may be able to develop a personalized exercise plan for you. Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen.

Establish a regular sleeping routine. Sleep problems may contribute to fatigue. Try to maintain regular bedtimes (go to sleep and wake up at the same time), take consistent, short naps during the day, and avoid heavy meals, alcohol or caffeine late in the day. Also, try to improve the quality of your sleep by wearing comfortable clothes and sleeping in a comfortable bed in a cool, dark, quiet room. You can also read a book or listen to music to relax before going to bed.

Communicate with your health care team. Although cancer-related fatigue is common and often expected, you should still share your concerns with your doctor. You are the only one who knows just how tired you feel, so it’s important to be as specific as possible about your fatigue. The more your doctor knows about the possible causes of your fatigue, the better he or she will be able to help treat it.

Keep track of your fatigue from day to day. As you undergo cancer therapy, you may have some days when you feel more energy than others. To better understand changes your body is going through, it helps to keep a diary. When did you first start feeling fatigued? Is there a pattern (e.g., time of day it occurs)? What makes your fatigue better or worse? How has it changed since you were diagnosed? How is it affected by your treatments? What situations make you feel more tired?

Conserve your energy. A slow-to-moderate pace uses less energy than a hurried one. There are many techniques you may use to pace yourself and conserve your energy. You can modify your home environment by placing items within easy reach to avoid multiple trips up and down stairs or in and out of rooms. Also, you may shop at quiet times, get easy-to-prepare meals, and plan activities that involve sitting down. Another way to conserve energy is to delegate household chores and tasks to others.

Consider supportive care. Physical therapy may help with nerve or muscle weakness, proper body mechanics and energy-saving techniques. Behavioral health may help with techniques such as deep breathing, relaxation techniques and stress management.

Deal with your emotions. Fatigue may be a constant reminder of cancer. It’s also distressing to feel tired all the time. Feeling stressed, worried, angry or sad may make fatigue worse. It may help to express your feelings in a journal. A professional counselor/therapist may also provide emotional support and practical advice.

Adjust your work schedule. Some people feel well enough to work, while others need to cut back. If you are working, discuss your treatment schedule with your supervisor before starting therapy. You may be able to adjust your schedule to take advantage of your peak energy times, limit work that increases muscle tension, or adjust your responsibilities while you undergoing treatment. Check to see if you’re eligible for time off or family leave.

Find support with others. Lack of understanding about cancer fatigue may lead to communication problems, resentment and guilt among family and friends. Share your feelings and don’t be afraid to cancel plans if you’re too tired. Support groups may also help you share experiences and coping tips with others who are dealing with cancer-related fatigue. These groups may also help you realize that you’re not going through cancer and fatigue alone.

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