Coping with the Stress of GVHD

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Coping with the Stress of GVHD

Living with GVHD can be an emotionally difficult experience for you and your family.  After transplant, everyone wants to resume a normal life, but GVHD can make that difficult for a time.

It's normal to feel sad or anxious while dealing with GVHD.

Physical changes, fatigue and drugs used to treat GVHD can cause:

  • depression
  • confusion
  • anxiety
  • mood swings
  • exaggerated feelings of anger, excitement or sadness
  • sleep problems

It helps to remember that these side effects are temporary and will end when you are taken off the drugs. Some patients are prescribed medications to stabilize mood swings and reduce anxiety while they have GVHD. This is very common. Short-term use of these drugs does not mean you will be dependent on them long-term. Let your medical team know if you have had problems with alcohol or drug addiction in the past.

Reach Out for Support

If you have GVHD, it's important not to ignore or downplay your feelings. Finding an outlet to express your feelings can decrease your stress and help you forward in a healthy manner. This is true for both the patient and family caregiver.

Talking with a therapist - a social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist or pastoral counselor - often helps. Therapists are trained to help you think about problems in different ways that help you take control of the problem, rather than letting the problem control you. You can find a therapist who is familiar with GVHD in BMT InfoNet's Directory of Mental Health Providers.

It can also help to talk with others who have had GVHD to get support and insights into managing this challenging side effect. BMT InfoNet's Caring Connections Program can put you in touch with others who have experienced GVHD.

Be The Match® offers free counseling for transplant patients and caregivers struggling with GVHD.  Phone 888-999-6743 or email for details.

If you prefer online support groups, BMT InfoNet's Facebook page - Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Club - can connect you with others dealing with GVHD. BMT InfoNet also offers some closed Facebook groups and periodic telephone support groups for GVHD patients and caregivers.  Phone 888-597-7674 or email for details.

You can't control how you feel, but can take steps to manage your feelings so that they don't disrupt your daily life.

Exercise, Meditation and Relaxation

People living with GVHD often find that meditation, guided imagery, relaxation programs and/or exercise helps them manage the physical and emotional effects of GVHD. Many hospitals offer these types of programs for patients. Community cancer wellness centers usually offer these as well.

Some YMCAs have partnered with LIVESTRONG to offer cancer patients a free 12-week exercise program to help build endurance and reduce fatigue. Click here to find if a program is available near you.

Watch a video about managing the emotional stress associated with GVHD.

(To view this page in Spanish click here.)

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