In March of 2020, the world became engulfed in battling COVID-19. We learned that the best ways to combat COVID-19 were through facemasks, physical distancing, and vaccinations.1 While it appears the heat of the battle is behind us, the emotional effects may continue to linger.
To understand the psychosocial distress and unmet needs among high-risk individuals during the pandemic, HealthTree Foundation invited patients with active multiple myeloma (MM) cancer or precursor conditions to participate in an online survey curated through a partnership with the Cancer Support Community (CSC). The survey was conducted from April 15, 2020 to June 8, 2020 during the acute physical distancing phase in the United States. Patients were asked to rate their level of concern in a number of physical and psychosocial areas according to the following scale:3
- Not at all
- Very Seriously
Here is a summary of responses from “Moderately” to “Very Seriously” concerned for specified physical needs:
As evident in the chart, eating and nutrition is the top concern followed by sleep problems. Patients are also concerned with pain and/or physical discomfort along with feeling too tired.
Here is a summary of the responses for unmet psychosocial and practical needs:
* Health insurance or money worries was considered a practical need
Multiple myeloma patients have the highest level of psychosocial concerns for uncertainty in the future. They are also concerned about their family, friends, and various types of negative emotions.
Stress is one particular negative emotion that leads to feelings of fear, sadness and anger. It can cause changes in appetite, interests, and energy as well as difficulties in concentrating or sleeping. Stress can even lead to physical reactions such as body aches, skin rashes, or stomach problems.2
Just as we care for our physical health, we need to take time to care for our emotional health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides healthy methods for coping with stress:4
- Take breaks from news stories, including those on social media: Constant reminders of the pandemic are inevitable when we are scrolling through the Internet. Limiting our screen time can help us focus on more positive activities.
- Take care of your body: Staying up to date on COVID-19 vaccines, eating well, getting enough sleep, moving more, and meditating are all great ways to feel healthier and reduce stress.
- Make time to unwind: Finding time to do activities we enjoy can improve our emotions.
- Connect with others: Talking to people we trust about our feelings can help reduce stress. This can include connecting with our community or faith-based organizations online, by phone, or through the mail.
While COVID-19 and side effects from cancer treatments can limit in-person therapy sessions, technology allows us to access mental health resources in the comfort of our own homes. Online therapy is becoming more common and is an effective way to improve quality of life.5
Myeloma patients can find ways to cope with long-term effects of the pandemic and the psychosocial distress it caused by following advice from the CDC, seeking professional help from therapists when possible, and connecting with the HealthTree Community for Multiple Myeloma.
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about the author
Emily Watabe Ballard is a Biostatistics Research Assistant for HealthTree Foundation and an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Applied Statistics and Analytics with a minor in Business. She enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband, playing the piano, and traveling.