Getting Back into Daily Activities

By Lauren Fulop, Occupational Therapist, Princess Alexandra Hospital

A diagnosis of a brain tumour cancer can greatly affect your ability to engage in your activities of daily living. Depending of the location, size and spread of the tumour, people can experience diverse changes in their physical functioning, thinking abilities, emotions and behaviour. Occupational Therapists (OTs) focus on improving a person’s ability to carry out everyday tasks and become as independent as possible. OTs may assess a person’s home as well as their physical, thinking and emotional abilities and find ways to make living easier.

OTs work closely with doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, speech therapists, social workers, psychologists and most importantly you, to help identify and work towards your goals. For example, returning to work and driving, preparing a meal, improving your sleep or showering yourself.

Both anecdotally and in the research, fatigue is a side effect that can interfere with your ability to engage in such tasks.

According to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), cancer-related fatigue is defined as “a distressing, persistent, subjective sense of physical, emotional, and/or cognitive tiredness or exhaustion related to cancer or cancer treatment that is not proportional to recent activity and interferes with usual functioning.” (1)

Getting Back into Daily Activities - Fatigue

Here are a few practical tips that you can try to help manage fatigue and get back into your daily activities:

Fatigue Management

Energy Conservation

  • Set priorities for the day.
  • Plan your activities across the day and week so that you have a balance of work and rest periods, alternate easy and difficult tasks, avoid rushing and rest before you get tired.
  • “Work smarter not harder” think about different areas of your life and consider ways of making tasks more manageable:
    • Self-Care: Sit to shower/ dress or dry yourself, use adaptive aids to help such as a dressing stick.
    • Work or productivity: Consider a gradual return to work i.e. work part time first then slowly build up your hours, allow for rest breaks. Talk with your doctor about continuing or returning to work.
    • Cooking: Use simple menus with fewer steps, prepare in bulk and freeze portions for use on busier days, buy pre-cut meats.
    • Cleaning: Don’t do it all at once, use long handled dustpans and buckets on wheels, sitting to iron.

Activity Enhancement

  • Being active can reduce your fatigue. Talk to your doctor before starting any exercises. Inactivity can result in having less strength which then leads to feeling more fatigued.
  • Consider a graded return to exercise such as starting with 5-10 minutes of light exercise 2-3 times per week, and slowly increasing it to 15-30 minutes 3-5 times per week.
  • Consider talking to your OT or physiotherapists for an exercise program suitable for you.


  • Ensure you get enough sleep.
  • Go to bed when feeling drowsy at night so that you “catch the sleep wave” but try and get up at the same time each morning to establish a routine.
  • Prepare yourself for sleep by using a pre-sleep routine every night that helps you to relax.
  • Minimise naps after 2pm in the afternoon.
  • Reduce or eliminate alcohol, caffeine, nicotine or spicy foods. Ideally, try not to consume these after 4pm.

Stress Management

  • Stress (worry, fear, frustration) can contribute to fatigue. It is important to recognise the situations that cause stress and how to reduce and manage stress better.
  • Delegation – some people feel that unless they do the job, it won’t be done right. Perhaps re-examine this belief and allow others to help and assume responsibility rather than being a “superman” or “superwoman”.
  • Distraction – do things you enjoy. Studies have shown that distracting activity can help decrease fatigue. It is therefore important to take time to do the things you enjoy.


  • Relaxation can mean different things to different people. There are formal and informal ways to relax such as deep breathing, relaxing muscles, visualisation or listening to calming music.
  • Consider talking to your OT, social worker or psychologist if you would like to know more about stress management and relaxation tips.

(1) Mock V , Atkinson A , Barsevick A , Cella D , Cimprich B , Cleeland C , Donnelly J , Eisenberger MA , Escalante C , Hinds P , Jacobsen PB , Kaldor P , Knight SJ , Peterman A , Piper BF , Rugo H , Sabbatini P , Stahl C , National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Practice Guidelines for Cancer-Related Fatigue. Oncology (Williston Park) 2000; 14: 151-161.

This is an article excerpt from the BTSS (Brain Tumour Support Service) Edition 1, 2016 E-Newsletter, which can be downloaded below:

Download BTSS E-Newsletter Edition 1, 2016