In our recent Lung Cancer In America survey, the majority of respondents perceived their stress levels as high or very high. While the stress levels of those with no evidence of disease (NED) were lower than those in the process of diagnosis or currently in treatment, all three groups had higher than average levels of stress. Receiving a lung cancer diagnosis, going through cancer treatment, and even dealing with the challenges of life after treatment place an enormous amount of stress on an individual. Each person is unique and will have varying responses to stress, as well as different methods of coping.
How Do You Handle Stress?
The vast majority (93%) of survey respondents use various coping strategies to handle their stress:
- 67% use prayer or spirituality
- 64% say talking with friends or family helps
- 62% rejuvenate with sleep or rest
- 54% actively work on replacing bad thoughts with good thoughts
- 30% engage in breathing exercises
- 28% get active and use exercise
How Can Coping Strategies Help?
Coping can be defined as a process with two parts: confronting (“Is this something to bother about?”) and managing (“What can I do about it?”). A number of research studies have looked at how people with cancer adapt to their diagnosis and treatment. It is widely believed that a person’s mental attitude affects his or her chances of survival, but clinical research does not support this idea. However, many studies have emphasized the importance of psychological and social factors on a person’s response to cancer and its treatment. Bottom line: coping strategies can help reduce a person’s stress and improve their quality of life. Using effective coping strategies may improve your response to treatment as well.1
A review of psychosocial coping strategies used by cancer patients found that, in general, coping strategies that focused solely on the emotional aspects of a person’s response were associated with a poorer emotional adjustment. Strategies that combined emotional aspects with a focus on thinking about the issue in a different way (like acceptance of one’s condition) or on seeking solutions to problems enabled people to achieve a better adjustment. Another key characteristic of effective coping strategies is social support. Helpful social relationships with friends, family, and colleagues increase self-esteem and decrease depression among people with cancer, although the researchers noted that relationships that are controlling or distressing can have a negative effect.1
Coping Strategies to Consider
There are a number of coping strategies, as varied as the individuals who have cancer. Each person must find what works best for his or her unique needs. Some common strategies include:
- Practicing relaxation techniques, such as focused breathing, meditation, or Tai Chi
- Sharing your honest emotions with family, friends, a spiritual advisor, or a counselor
- Keeping a journal to organize your thoughts and feelings
- Taking time to do activities you love, including hobbies or time spent with friends
- Finding a support group with others who understand what you’re going through
- Review your goals and priorities to decide what’s truly important in your life, as well as what’s not2