Breast Cancer Burnout and How to Avoid It

breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women, though there are cases of men having it too. According to the American Cancer Society, as of 2013 about 232,340 new cases of breast cancer will develop for women and about 39,620 women will die from breast cancer. Among those who are recently diagnosed with breast cancer, great distress and anxiety will happen. The anxiety of having breast cancer can cause a burnout. A burnout can easily creep up on anyone and the key is knowing how to avoid it.

Most people will confuse a burnout with depression. Though it’s very common for a breast cancer patient to become depressed, it’s not the same as a burnout. In terms, a burnout can be either a physical or mental collapse caused by stress. When a person learns he or she has breast cancer, the body’s natural reaction is to panic and feel overwhelmed as the doctor is explaining the next steps of the diagnosis. However, being overly anxious and stressed about the situation will only cause the body to break down quicker. Upon learning about the breast cancer diagnosis, a mental burnout can be avoided if necessary steps are taken.

A common practice of newly diagnosed patients is to keep it a secret. The reasons vary, from feeling embarrassed to avoiding sympathy talk from others. It’s understandable if a person is not ready to deliver the news to family and friends right away; however, one should not withhold the secret indefinitely. A great deal of stress results from keeping this secret, for it can “cause lapses in physical stamina and intellectual activity.” In other words, keeping a secret about having breast cancer can cause physical and mental burnouts. A person withholding this kind of secret is only hurting themselves from the inside-out. The person will suddenly over think and choose words carefully to avoid any suspicion from others of being diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s even possible the person will begin to feel guilty of withholding this secret from loved ones, for breast cancer is a serious disease that means either life or death. It is not necessary to announce to the whole world that he or she has breast cancer; at least tell people who matters most in life.

Another way of avoiding a mental burnout is joining a support group. Even after delivering the bad news to family and friends, a person may feel more comfortable talking to others who are experiencing similar difficulties. In a support group for people diagnosed with breast cancer, each person can exchange encouragement and stories of dealing with the disease. It can also help to speak with breast cancer survivors; this will increase motivation and give hope to fighting breast cancer.

Experts say that exercise reduces stress by releasing endorphins to the brain; thus, the endorphins help balance the “happy” chemicals such as serotonin to increase happiness and pleasure. If a person if physically capable of exercising before or after cancer treatment, this will also help him or her stay physically fit and feel good about themselves.

It is never easy to handle the news of being diagnosed with breast cancer, but that doesn’t mean a person should be continually stressed about the situation. A burnout can easily happen if a person worries excessively about the breast cancer diagnosis, but there are ways to avoid it. Share the information with family and friends; it will help prevent unduly stress and mental burnout.

By Bridget Cunningham


American Cancer Society

Bioscience Technology

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

Healthy Women