Living with the challenges of lung cancer or lung disease will affect your life and the lives of those close to you. When faced with these challenges, acknowledging and using your strengths can help your emotional well-being. This is known as a ‘strengths-based approach’ where the focal point is on a person’s strengths, capabilities and connections, particularly in the face of great difficulty.
Overcoming feelings of being overwhelmed and adjusting to what lies ahead, may seem insurmountable at first, but with time and support you may be able to adjust your thinking and take on a strengths-based approach. A strengths-based approach can be a helpful strategy in your self-care toolkit.
The first step is to identify your personal strengths, capabilities and connections so that you can use them to their full capacity to support your emotional well-being and build resilience in your current circumstances.
Uncover your strengths and capabilities
Your strengths can consist of many different things – some which are easy to describe, others that may not be as easily defined. You may be a good friend and listener – you apply a strengths-based approach by using this trait with others. You may also have the strength to know that it’s okay to “not be okay” and allow yourself to have a cry when needed. You may be the person who attends appointments and writes everything down that is being discussed so you can reflect and share the information. You may see this as something you ‘just do’, but for others it is a strength.
It can be hard to reflect in this way and recognise your value. You could ask a trusted friend or family member to help you or seek support from a mental health professional to help you navigate recognising and capitalising on your strengths.
Focus your attention on what you can do
Whether living with lung cancer, lung disease or caring for a loved one, you may hear a lot of information on what cannot be done rather than what can be done. Focussing on what can be done reminds us of the value that is present in our lives. You may have had a very active social life and enjoyed going out for dinner regularly, but now you may find yourself fatiguing if you stay out too long. Instead of focussing on what you cannot do, consider other ways to connect with your social circle – can you get takeaway from your favourite restaurant and eat with your friends at home, where you may be more comfortable. Although it may not be the same, some activities you previously enjoyed can be modified. You may even learn to appreciate different things you hadn’t thought much about before. It can take some time and energy to work this out and adjust to the change. You may need to take active steps in shifting your thinking to identify the things you value and that bring you joy. Asking for help from a trusted friend, family member or mental healthcare professional can be a way to start.
Recognising what’s in your control can help focus your energy on your wellbeing, and possibly help you start to accept the things you don’t have control over.
Think and speak helpful words
The words you say out loud, and your ‘inner dialogue’ feed your mind. You subconsciously react to what you say to others and yourself. If you say disheartening words and think dispiriting thoughts, then the chances are that you will feel that way.
On the other hand, thinking and speaking helpful words will help you to develop a positive frame of mind and expand your perspective. Your ability to focus on your strengths, what is working well or what can be done, helps to regain the control that you may feel you have lost. This will improve your resilience to be present during any day-to-day decision making and in turn assist you in focussing on helpful language. It will take practice to help keep your thinking or ‘inner dialogue’ on track. Practice makes perfect and this motivation will help you to use a strengths-based approach when you need it most.
Knowing how your thoughts influence emotions does not mean you will never experience Big Feelings like sadness, anger or frustration. It just means that when you are feeling low you may have a better sense of why these feelings are there and how you might deal with them.
Where do I start?
You could write down the activities or tasks that you are finding particularly frustrating and need to modify or change. Start to write some possible modifications or changes you could make that still allow you to contribute, participate or enjoy them in a different way. Maybe have a trusted friend or family member sit with you to help come up with some ideas. If you document this in a book with a beautiful cover or paper that you like, you’ll want to look at it as it’s associated with something pleasing and enjoyable. You can refer to this book from time to time and reflect or add to it.
You could use an old glass jar and put little notes written by yourself and loved ones in there with affirmations or something that you’re thankful for. On the days that you’re feeling particularly low or unmotivated, take one of the notes out of the jar for motivation or a reminder of something you do well. You could also put sticky notes with encouraging statements in spots where you’ll see it often to remind you of the thing you’re doing well each day, including recognising when you need time out. You may also want to create a list of things you can do if you are having a tough time. That way you don’t have to think about ways to lift yourself up, as you have already prepared some options.
Staying as active as you can for as long as you can is the key to helping yourself feel more in control of your life. Some things might take you longer to do or you might have to do things in parts, but at least you are still doing them. If your energy levels fluctuate, try to think in advance of some activities you like doing that are more sedentary which you can swap with your more strenuous activities.
It may take some time to incorporate a strengths-based approach in your day-to-day life and it won’t always be possible for it to be every day. With support, you can navigate and develop these strategies to help you engage with your inner strength. Download our self-care plan template here to start planning your self-care strategies.