Tending to Your Emotional Bank Account

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

JUNE 25, 2018

Keep Your Balance High

Do you feel as though cancer has depleted your reserves? There is no question that cancer treatment and the prolonged period of recovery that follows are costly in many ways. In addition to the financial impact of treatment, some additional costs that can accompany a cancer diagnosis include: missed work days, reduced income, gas, parking at the hospital, childcare, take-out meals, house cleaning, and laundry assistance. If you’re feeling the crunch financially, there may be resources from national and local agencies or foundations that can help. Consider speaking with an oncology social worker at your hospital or clinic where you receive your care.

Your Physical and Emotional Bank Account

Just as important as your finances are, the bank account on my mind today is the one that tallies your physical and emotional health. It is just as important to keep your eye on the bottom line here as it is on the one that comes from the bank. We all make frequent withdrawals of energy and emotion, and you may find it more difficult to make regular deposits into this account. When you are focused on just getting through the next treatment or even the next day, it may be hard to imagine ways to bolster the bottom line of your well-being.

Let’s consider the withdrawals that are regular, necessary bills, similar to your monthly mortgage or rent check. You have to show up for treatment, and go through the experience of surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. Then there are possible side-effects including fatigue, nausea, or a general sense of malaise. Your many medical appointments may leave you feeling as though the hospital or treatment center is a second home. On top of all this, you have to try to keep up with your normal home and professional obligations, which can tap your reserves.        

Once active cancer treatment is done, the bills continue, and you’ll be getting back to your pre-cancer activities. But sometimes this is easier said than done. Although your family and friends may expect that you are immediately fully recovered, the rule of thumb is that it takes at least as long as the total duration of treatment to be 100% physically and emotionally healed. This usually means months, and many people continue to have periods of fatigue, sadness and anxiety about the future.

Making Deposits into Your Personal Account          

The emotional side of your personal bank account can be harder to monitor. There are some moments that are reliably stressful: awaiting results from scans, hearing that a cancer buddy has died, or having difficult conversations with your doctors. Then there are the other times that are unexpected: wondering whether this holiday might be your last, the intense bittersweet feelings associated with life’s celebrations like graduations and weddings, or contending with insensitive remarks from people around you.

It is important to identify ways to make physical and emotional deposits so this account maintains a robust balance. Here are some possibilities to consider:


  1. Naps and earlier bedtimes.
  2. Sleeping in when possible.
  3. Splurging on a new quilt or high quality bed linens.
  4. Continuing with regular mild exercise, which has been demonstrated to improve a sense of wellbeing.
  5. Allowing yourself comfort foods and periodic treats with less than your usual standards of high nutritional value.
  6. Going out for some meals with friends. If dinner feels daunting, try breakfast or lunch.
  7. Chatting with a friend every single day, even if it is a brief conversation.
  8. Allowing yourself to binge watch a good television series on a gray day.
  9. Getting out to a movie; the experience of being in a theater is different than watching at home.
  10. Reading whatever delights you. Always have a good book going.
  11. Spending as much time outside in beautiful places as you can.
  12. Yoga or meditation.
  13. Reiki, therapeutic massage or acupuncture.
  14. Attending religious services if this is your tradition.
  15. Playing—and this includes cards or word games or dress-up with small children.
  16. Listening to your favorite music.
  17. Laughing as often and as much as possible.
  18. Being gentle on yourself. Treat yourself at least as generously and kindly as you do others.

If you would like to leave a comment, click BIDMC Cancer Community and tell us your thoughts.

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