How To Manage Your Own Stress and Worries When Your Child Has Cancer


You can’t look after your child’s needs if you neglect your own.  

Your children learn how to cope with serious life events by watching your reactions and behaviours. It’s important to take care of yourself so that your child sees you coping with the stresses and they can do the same. 

There is no single, or best, way to manage stress and worry. Looking after yourself can help you maintain your wellbeing and better cope with the stresses (physical and emotional) as you support your child through their cancer journey. 

Tips for managing stress and worries 

It’s good to have a few different ‘coping strategies’. Try these to see if they help you feel more relaxed, confident and in control.  

  • Eat well  

Eating healthily helps you stay healthy, keep your energy up and cope with stress. Increase your vegetable and fruit intake, avoid fast food and cut down alcohol and caffeine (which can put stress on your body).  

  • Try to be active  

While you may not have much time or energy, physical activity is more important now than ever. Evidence shows regular exercise helps lower feelings of anxiety, anger and depression, helps you cope with stress, and improves sleep. Even a short daily walk can help.  

  • Make time for yourself  

Take some time for relaxation and enjoyment - every day if you can. It can be anything that helps you feel more calm and content, like reading a book, having a massage, listening to music or walking in a park. It can be hard to find the time, but it’s important to prevent a build up of stress. 

  • Deal with issues  

Sometimes your child’s cancer diagnosis comes on top of other life stresses such as financial problems, work-related issues or relationship difficulties. You might need to face other issues and get help dealing with them so you can focus on your child’s illness. It can help to talk to a counsellor (see contacts below). 

  • Clear your mind 

Meditation and mindfulness practices can help you cope with stress by helping you quiet the ‘monkey mind’, all the negative thoughts and chatter and worries about what might happen. Mindfulness is about focusing on the present moment and connecting with what’s most important to you. 

Many people find yoga or tai chi helpful.  

  • Talk to people who understand 

Talk to other people who understand the stress and worries you feel. Connect with other parents of children with cancer and find out how they coped in our online parent community.  

  • Be kind to yourself 

Dealing with your child’s cancer is upsetting and difficult. There will be times when you are worried or exhausted or stressed (or all of the above) and snap at your child or partner, or burst into tears. And that’s okay.  
There is no such thing as a perfect parent. It’s okay to sometimes feel scared and wish this wasn’t happening to you. It’s okay for your child to see you cry or get angry. Rather than beat yourself up, try committing to some of these strategies to reduce stress. 

Does thinking positively help? 

A common belief is that the most important thing in coping with cancer is staying positive. 

While it can help to be hopeful, this doesn’t mean denying the reality that cancer is serious or frightening. Trying to put on a brave face all the time drains energy, and generally doesn’t work well because the negative thoughts just keep coming back. Pressure to be positive all the time can lead to people being afraid to discuss fears and feelings, which can make problems worse. 

Try to be realistic about what is happening and talk to someone about your fears and concerns so you can better deal with them. Explaining how you feel to those around you may also help you get the support you need. 

When to get professional help 

If stress or worries are so intense that you are not sleeping well, or feel sad, irritable or anxious most of the time, you may need to see a professional. Your GP, a counsellor or a psychologist can help you find strategies to manage the stress and worries.  


More advice/support 

Contact a CanTeen counsellor … 


Useful sites/resources 

Cancer Council’s booklets: Nutrition and Cancer and Exercise for People Living with Cancer have useful advice for eating well and being physically active.  

For a full list of Parenting through Cancer resources click here