Tips and Tools for Managing Stress
For most of us, a lung cancer diagnosis is synonymous with stress. Even if we never worried a day in our lives before we were diagnosed, chances are good that all of us have spent some sleepless nights and/or worrisome days since we learned we have lung cancer. A bit of stress is normal, but when it gets out of hand, stress is dangerous to your health.
Stress can cause greater health issues
Because untreated stress can lead to greater health issues, you need to address it. Psychology Today says that unmitigated stress can lead to problems with your heart, lung, and/or stomach as well as wearing down your immune system and affecting your weight.
If you need help identifying your stressors, Triage Cancer has a number of worksheets you can download and complete:
- Sources of Stress - a three-page document that lists a number of potential stressors in the following areas: workplace, interpersonal relationships, finances, health, and environment.
- Signs of Acute Stress - a one-page worksheet that helps you identify physical symptoms, such as crying, nausea, tensed muscles, clenched jaws, trembling hands, related to acute stress.
- Signs of Chronic Stress - a single sheet that helps you identify chronic stressors that may be adversely affecting your health and well-being. Chronic stress may be physical (i.e., headaches, trouble sleeping, fatigue, eating problems, bowel issues), psychological (i.e., nervousness, irritability, depression, withdrawal), or behavioral (such as indecisiveness, sexual problems, use of drugs/alcohol).
Three ways to manage stress
Once you have identified the causes of your stress, you can begin to address them. According to Nancy W. Fawzy, who has her Ph.D. in Nursing Science and who has worked with cancer patients for over 40 years, there are three main ways to manage stress: problem-solving, changing attitudes, and relaxation techniques. These methods may be used singularly or combined. There is no right or wrong way to use them.
Problem-solving is used to eliminate, or at least lessen major stressors. This involves several steps:
- Relax. Find a comfortable, peaceful space where you can concentrate only on the problems causing your stress.
- Identify the Real Stressor. This may not be as easy as it sounds. For instance, do you truly hate your job or do you dislike your coworkers, bosses, environment, hours, etc.? It is important to dig down to find the root cause of your stress.
- Brainstorm. Let your mind go toward possible solutions to your stress. Don't rule anything out initially. Just let your mind wander.
- Pick a solution and implement it. Once you have a list of possible solutions, choose the one you think is most likely to alleviate your stressor. Put it into action.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of the solution. After giving it a fair chance, examine whether the chosen solution actually worked to reduce your stress. If it did, great! If it didn't, return to the drawing board and try again.
Please note that not all stressors can be problem-solved away. Some can only be reduced. Others simply can't be problem-solved away.
Your outlook makes a difference
Changing your attitude (aka cognitive appraisal) is the second step in managing stress. For those stresses that you can't get rid of by problem-solving, changing the way you view a stressor may help eliminate it. For instance, how important is it that your house is spotless? Must you really cook a full-course meal every night? In the grand scheme of things, how much does it really matter if someone else is parking in your spot or that someone cuts you off in traffic?
Try to decide if what is stressing you out will be important 20 years from now. Is it life-altering or simply an annoyance?
What about relaxation techniques?
The third way you can manage stress is through relaxation. Using relaxation techniques, you can alter your physiological responses to stressors. If you have never tried Relaxation and Guided Imagery techniques, you can see how they work by listening to YouTube videos.
Everyone manages stress in their own way
Besides the techniques provided by Dr. Fawzy, Mayo Clinic offers some different suggestions for managing stress. They include participating in ongoing physical activity, keeping a sense of humor, socializing with friends and family, and/or focusing on hobbies, such as crafts, reading, or listening to music. Don't forget to get plenty of sleep, avoid caffeine, and eat a balanced diet.
Finally, if none of these techniques work, you may need to consult a healthcare professional. There is no shame in seeking the assistance of a psychologist, psychiatrist, or another healthcare worker who can help you learn to control the stressors in your life.
Have a question for our team of lung cancer advocates?