Having effective self-care strategies can help you to take care of your mental health, maintain overall wellbeing, manage illness and care for others. While in theory it may seem simple, it is important to plan and dedicate time for a self-care routine.
Self-care can help you to improve your mood and to manage the stress and challenges of living with a lung condition. These self-care strategies can also be beneficial for carers, family and friends.
How to start a self-care routine
Starting each day with a routine is a good way to ensure you get your daily dose of self-care. A self-care routine creates structure, a sense of accomplishment and can act as an anchor to maintaining emotional wellbeing. Building in flexibility will help you to maintain your self-care routine even when things go wobbly. It is important to ensure you nurture your body and your mind.
A few tips for what to include in your morning self-care routine:
- Eat breakfast. Try a fruit smoothie if you are struggling to manage things that are more solid.
- Get some sunshine. This helps with our sleep/wake cycle. Try eating your breakfast in a sunny nook or on the verandah.
- Do some exercise. 10-20 minutes of walking is an ideal way to enjoy some sunshine or you could do some arm and leg weights.
- Make a plan for the rest of the day. If you already have this done, review it over breakfast.
- Find 5-10 minutes to sit or lie quietly and just be. Some people like to meditate or you can just sit and notice things around you.
- Try to get up with enough time to be ready for your day without rushing.
Why movement is important
Try to get your body moving every day. Exercise is one of the best ways to combat depression and feeling low. Going for a walk encourages your brain to release ‘feel good’ hormones. Many people with a lung condition become fearful of exercise, especially if they struggle with breathlessness. We all have receptors in our brain that set off our ‘alarm system’ and when we get too breathless, this can cause you to feel anxious or panic. If that happens, the brain’s feedback loop will tell you it is unsafe to exercise.
Your GP can refer you to a pulmonary rehabilitation program, respiratory physiotherapist or exercise physiologist with expertise in lung conditions. They can show you how to exercise safely and within your body’s limits and capabilities. They can even show you how to exercise if you need oxygen therapy. Staying fit, maintaining movement and maintaining good muscle tone is crucial to helping you manage your lung condition.
Importance of mental health
Taking care of your mental and emotional health is just as important as making sure you keep your body in the best possible health. Mind and body are inextricably linked and it makes sense that what impacts one will impact the other. Learning how to maintain healthy emotions will make managing your lung condition easier.
Some people like to set time aside each day to meditate or practise mindfulness. Just like going to the gym or a pulmonary rehabilitation session, this time of reflection, focus and introspection is a dedicated time to pursue this activity. And just like physical activity, some people prefer to incorporate mindful practice into their everyday activities rather than practising it a dedicated time. See our Mindfulness and Self-compassion Guided Practices to get your started.
Similar to physical health, improving your emotional ‘fitness’ takes practice, patience and time. If you allow yourself to become emotionally fitter each day, in time you will look back and realise that you are more aware of and more in control of your emotions.
Learning how thoughts influence emotions does not mean that we will never feel sad, angry, disappointed, frustrated or the myriad of other emotions which leave us feeling flat. It just means that when these normal and natural emotions show up, you will have a better sense of why they are there and how to deal with them.
“I have gained mental maturity through the experience of lung disease. You need to process things, break them down and learn not to feed on it.”– Anonymous, living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
Why having a team is important?
Humans are not meant to live in isolation and be solitary. We all need a ‘team’. When you have a diagnosis of a chronic or life-limiting lung condition, more than ever you need to make sure you have your team around you. Get your team on board as soon as you can. The more they understand your lung condition and the possible support you will need now, and in the future, the better you will fare. Having discussions with family, friends and support organisations early means that you will feel better prepared when and if your disease progresses and your support needs increase.