How to Manage Anxiety and Depression When Living with a Serious Illness

If you’re living with a serious illness like cancer, heart failure, and so many others, it’s easy not to recognize the symptoms of anxiety or depression. You may think it’s normal to feel sad or worried because of your diagnosis, and you may believe that these symptoms are tied to this. While it’s normal to have days when you’re feeling blue, if these feelings stick around, you’re having trouble sleeping or eating, or you’re not enjoying hobbies the way you normally do, something is wrong. Palliative care can help. 

What is Palliative Care? 

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness. This type of care focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is provided by a specially trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment. 

How Can Palliative Care Help?

If treatment for your anxiety and depression isn’t already under control, then ask your doctor for a referral to palliative care.  

During your first visit with the palliative care team, let your doctor, nurse, or social worker know that you’ve been feeling anxious and/or depressed. They may screen you with a four-question patient health questionnaire (PHQ-4), which is quick and easy. They’ll review the results with you during your visit and put together a plan to help you start to feel better. 

Anxiety and depression can be treated at the same time as your serious illness. Luckily, the available medications have been shown to be safe and effective and can be used with treatments for your underlying illness. Your palliative care team can help you find the right mix of medications or therapies to help. This may also mean visits with a psychotherapist or behavioral therapies like relaxation, meditation, or creative outlets. At the end of the day, together you’ll figure out what works best for you.

If you are experiencing anxiety, your palliative care team can also help you maintain as much control as possible regarding your serious illness. The team is there to help you understand the illness, as well as the interventions that can help manage your symptoms. You and your loved ones will be involved in treatment decisions every step of the way, so that your care plan is aligned with what you want. Your palliative care team can also help you talk to your family and other loved ones about what is happening.

If you are interested in learning more about anxiety and depression, watch this recent webinar by Dr. Andrew Esch, who is a palliative care doctor. In this short video, he explains that anxiety and depression are common when diagnosed with a serious illness, how palliative care can help, and much more. 

About GetPalliativeCare.Org

GetPalliativeCare.Org is an online resource for patients and families that focuses solely on providing information on palliative care from the point of diagnosis. At you can take a short quiz to see whether you or a loved one could benefit from palliative care. The site is provided by the Center to Advance Palliative Care.



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