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Looking after your mental health during your transplant

During your stay in protective isolation, you will have lots of spare time on your hands. Many of our patients talk about how much of an emotionally sapping and lonely experience it can be.


It’s easy to have negative thoughts about your situation and become anxious about an uncertain future. Although it’s perfectly normal to have these thoughts, they could turn into something more serious, especially if you’re not able to see the people you love as often as you need.

Being in isolation is a scary experience. The best thing about it is that you have your own room and yet the worse is that at times, you feel so lonely.

Simon, who had a transplant in 2012

As much as the isolation wasn't easy, I always tried to make the best of it because I knew that I had to do it.

Jimmy, who had a transplant in 2015

Coping mechanisms

In simple terms, a ‘coping mechanism’ is anything you do to feel less stressed. They can help relieve stress, help you relax or control your emotions. Different things will work for different people in different situations, so we can’t say what will work for you, but here are a few suggestions:

Take a deep breath – it sounds simple but it can really calm your nerves.

Mindfulness – this meditation-based approach can help you to stay calm and focus on the present, rather than worry about the future. To introduce yourself to mindfulness, mobile apps such as Headspace can be downloaded to your phone or tablet, and require a subscription. There are also very similar free apps, such as Smiling Mind and Healthy Minds Program. They can provide you with daily meditation programs that take around 10 minutes to complete and focus on a wide range of different topics.

Discovery – give your mind a different topic to focus on, other than your health. You might want to learn about something new that interests you, such as a period in history or a famous person.

Have a laugh – everybody has something that always makes them laugh, so take your favourite comedies with you or ask your friends for their recommendations.

Find out more – if you are unsure about anything to do with your transplant or recovery, talk to your medical team, they will be able to put your mind at ease.

I had help keeping my mind positive; initially it was very difficult to stop my mind jumping to negative thoughts so I looked at various self-help processes

Sue, who had a transplant in 2011

Signs of something more serious

A time may come when you feel you need extra support to help you cope. It’s not always easy to identify when you might need this, especially if you are feeling low. If you start to experience some of the following, you should talk to your medical team about it:

  • you’ve been feeling very low for two weeks or more
  • you can’t find the motivation to do anything, even important tasks
  • you feel unable to control your thoughts
  • you’re feeling much more anxious than usual.

Getting some extra help

If you would like to talk to a counsellor or try a talking therapy, your transplant team will be able to refer you. If you have never used this kind of therapy before, it can seem a little strange at first – but hopefully it will make you feel more positive about your situation.

Anthony Nolan offers a free Telephone Emotional Support service specifically for stem cell transplant patients and family members, provided by Working To Wellbeing. Through a series of appointments, you can talk to someone about whatever’s on your mind, such as concerns you may be having about the future or your treatment pathway. Working To Wellbeing are a team of wellbeing specialists including qualified psychologists, with years of experience providing support for stem cell transplant patients. If you think this might be helpful to you, email our team to arrange an appointment:

Our Recovery: Mind web section and our booklet Your Mental Health and Stem Cell Transplant also contain handy suggestions to help you cope with the mental challenges of having a stem cell transplant.

You can also contact the Anthony Nolan Patient Services team on 0303 303 0303 or


For me it was the most challenging time of my life, with all the highs and lows (and there were many). It truly is “one day at a time” and at your lowest moment, remember there is always hope.

Carole, who had a transplant in 2014

Information published: 02/08/2021

Next review due: 02/08/2024