Looking after yourself

The thought of living with lung cancer can make it difficult to relax. You may have feelings of stress, worry, anxiety, anger, grief or even depression. You may also feel pressure to put on a brave face or stay positive.

Living well with lung cancer
It is important you do what you can to look after yourself after you are diagnosed

This is all extremely normal for people living with lung cancer. It is ok to feel like this. With so much focus on your physical health, it is important to take time to think about how you will look after your mental health and wellbeing.

This section will help you to work out how you can best look after yourself and live well with lung cancer.

It’s good to talk

It may help to talk about how you’re feeling. This can be with your family, friends, your lung cancer nurse specialist or even a mental health professional, like a counsellor.

Some people do not want to or feel like they can talk honestly about their feelings with family or friends because they don’t want to upset them.

I used the Ask the Nurse service many times. Nicky was my rock. No internet search would have come up with their answers but, more importantly, no internet search would have provided me with the amount of encouragement, calm and level-headedness that Nicky did.

Larissa, living with lung cancer

Getting enough sleep

Many people affected by lung cancer can have difficulty sleeping. Some medications, lung cancer symptoms and side effects, as well as the stress and anxiety of a lung cancer diagnosis can all disrupt a good night’s sleep.

If you are running short of sleep, it can affect your mood and how you interact with those around you. It can also influence how you choose and respond to treatment options. Rest can help you think more clearly and positive and poor sleep is not something you should simply put up with.

There are things you can do to improve your sleep:

  • Have a regular bedtime routine
  • Avoid electronic gadgets such as TV, tablets or mobile phones before bed (they give off more blue light which can affect sleep patterns)
  • Try and relax before bedtime. Light stretches, relaxation CDs, breathing texhniques or reading are all ways you can help relax
  • Be more physically active during the day, if your health permits it
  • Make sure your bedroom is not too hot or too cold
  • Avoid caffeine, sugar or alcohol
  • Write down any worries you may currently have a few hours before bedtime to help clear your mind.

You may also be able to take sleeping tablets. Your GP can tell you if these are suitable for you.

Relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques may be a good way to help reduce any stress or anxiety you are feeling. They can also help improve your memory and concentration and reduce fatigue.

Breathing exercises

Learning a breathing technique can help you relax and reduce stress and anxiety. It can also help when you are doing physical activity.

  • Sit or stand straight
  • Relax the top of your chest and shoulders
  • Place your fingers lightly at the bottom of your chest, on your tummy (Give a little cough and you will feel your diaphragm under your fingers)
  • Breath in slowly through your nose. You will feel your lower ribs expand and your tummy rise
  • Purse your lips and breathe out gently. Notice your belly button pressing towards your spine as you breathe more air out.
  • Repeat the exercise, trying to do it about five or six times.

Progressive muscular relaxation

This technique involves tensing and relaxing muscle groups throughout your body. For maximum benefit, tense and relax each muscle group twice before moving on to the next one.

Exercise one: Face

  • Shut your eyes and establish a slow, steady breathing pattern
  • Pull your eyebrows tightly together (like you’re frowning) and close your eyes
  • Hold for a few seconds. Then relax.
  • Now clamp your teeth together, feeling the tension in your mouth and jaw
  • Push your tongue against the roof of your mouth
  • Hold for a couple of seconds
  • Relax, then repeat.

Exercise two: Neck

  • Press your head backwards, either against the bed, chair or wall
  • Feel the tension
  • Hold for a couple of seconds
  • Relax, then repeat.

Exercise three: Shoulders

  • Bring your shoulders up as high as you can
  • Hold the tension for a few seconds
  • Relax by allowing your shoulders to drop back down again. Notice the difference between the tension and the relaxation
  • Concentrate on how your shoulders, arms, wrists and hands now feel relaxed and heavy.
  • Repeat.

Exercise four: Arms

  • Bend your arms, bringing your hands towards your shoulders
  • Notice the tension
  • Try and make your muscles tight for a few seconds
  • Relax, then repeat.

Exercise five: Hands and wrists

  • Tense your hands by squeezing them into fists
  • Feel the tension
  • Relax, then repeat.

Exercise six: Chest and stomach

  • Push your chest out, arching your back
  • Hold the position for a couple of seconds
  • Relax, noticing how the muscles in your chest now feel relax
  • Continue to breathe regularly and evenly.
  • Pull your stomach in tightly
  • Hold for a couple of seconds
  • Relax, and repeat.

Exercise seven: Legs

  • Point your toes away from your head and stretch your legs
  • Feel the tension for a couple of seconds
  • Relax, and then repeat.

Take a few minutes after completing the exercise to continue to breathe gently and evenly, enjoying the feeling of relaxation.

Once you are ready to move, count backwards from three and open your eyes. Get up slowly and try and keep that state of relaxation for as long as possible.

Guided imagery and visualisation

Close your eyes and take three deep breaths – in through your nose and out through your mouth. Now picture a happy, pleasant time, a time when you had little or no problems or worries about your health.

  • Look at the surroundings – are you outdoors or indoors?
  • Who is there?
  • What are you doing?
  • Listen to all the sounds
  • Are there any pleasant smells>
  • Feel the temperature.
  • You are happy. Your body feels good.
  • Just enjoy the surroundings.

Fix this feeling in your mind so you can return to it any time you like by just picturing this happy time.

When you are ready, take three deep breaths. On each exhale, say the word Relax. Imagine the word written in warm sand.

Open your eyes. Remain quiet for a few minutes before slowly returning to your activities.

There are many other example of breathing and relaxation exercises online including NHS Trust websites, Maggie’s centre, YouTube and app stores.