Tips for living with lung disease and lung cancer in ‘new normal’
“Humans are social creatures and we are not used to social distancing. The difficult part of social distancing is that we can start to feel disconnected from each other. As a result, it’s normal to start to have feelings of isolation, loneliness and sadness which can affect mental health.”– Debra Sandford, Clinical Psychologist
The mental health impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt in Australia with the ongoing risk of outbreaks, unexpected short-term lockdowns and restrictions. Lung Foundation Australia, in collaboration with Clinical Psychologist Debra Sandford, offers the following advice for looking after your mental health during this time.
There is no stereotypical way for people to react to these unprecedented times. For many, their lives for the foreseeable future will be greatly affected by COVID-19 either emotionally, physically or financially, or even all three. It’s normal to develop feelings of anxiousness, distress, fear and even anger.
It is important to prioritise your physical and mental health. These strategies may help you to cope with feelings that arise while you are social distancing or self-isolating.
Coping with self-isolation and social distancing
If you are feeling anxious or worried about the current situation, remember that health professionals, government officials and researchers are working tirelessly to help those in need and slow the spread of the disease. This is a global issue, which means the world’s best minds are working to solve it.
Limit media intake
It’s important to keep up-to-date with new announcements but don’t let the 24/7 news cycle control your life. Know when to switch off, as repeated exposure can increase feelings of anxiety for most people.
Debra recommends: “Check the news in the morning, perhaps just half an hour to catch up with what’s happened overnight, then again listen to the evening news. It’s important to disconnect during the day to give yourself a break.”
Follow government advice
The Federal and State Governments are regularly updating advice on how to protect yourself, the COVID-19 vaccination rollouts, current restrictions and health alerts. It can feel overwhelming when the information on restrictions and travel can change so frequently; find the most current information via health.gov.au.
Health and wellbeing
Keeping well physically may help to improve your mental wellbeing and reduce the impact of COVID-19. Regularly drink water, eat healthy and nourishing food to fuel your body and try to keep your body moving. Now might be the time to talk to your GP or an exercise physiologist about a home-based exercise program. Try to establish a regular sleeping pattern, as this will help you to maintain your normal routine and feel more at ease.
Debra says: “If you are struggling to exercise because of your health, try sitting out in the fresh air and getting some sunshine. This will help you feel a bit better and it will definitely help with your sleep routine.”
Living with others in lockdown
The impact of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions mean you may be spending more time at home with your family or housemates than you typically would. Equip yourself early with the tools to manage household politics, as conflict in the home can take a toll on your mental health.
“The isolation is difficult, you miss doing things spontaneously. Not going out and interacting with others, means you have less to talk about with your partner.“– Anonymous, living with lung cancer.
Set rules and boundaries
Have all the household members come together when everyone is feeling calm and discuss rules or boundaries you each have that may make life easier during this time. It might be having a designated “quiet hour” or developing a roster of chores.
Schedule time each day to focus on making the most of each other’s company: sit down for a meal, play a board game, watch a television show. Make it an activity that everyone enjoys to create a happy environment. This is a challenging time for everyone, so bolster each other with positivity and check in on your loved one’s mental health regularly. If you are feeling stressed or angry, walk away and calm down before confronting someone.
Debra says: “It’s likely you or your loved one may have a shorter temper than usual; this is quite normal when people become stressed. Under these circumstances, give each other space to cool off and come back together when you are both calmer to discuss the issue.”
The five senses exercise
The goal of this exercise is to calm your mind by using all your senses to focus on your environment instead of your thoughts.
- First, notice five things that you can see. Look around you and become aware of your environment. Try to pick out something that you would not usually notice.
- Second, notice four things you can feel. Bring your attention to the things that you’re currently feeling, such as the texture of your clothing or the smooth surface of the table you’re resting your hands on.
- Third, notice three things that you can hear. Listen for and notice things in the background that you don’t normally notice. It could be the birds chirping outside or an appliance humming in the next room.
- Fourth, notice two things you can smell. Bring attention to scents that you usually filter out, either pleasant or unpleasant. Catch a whiff of the pine trees outside or food cooking in the kitchen.
- Finally, notice one thing you can taste. Take a sip of a drink, chew gum or notice the current taste in your mouth.
Debra says: “The more descriptive information you include during this exercise, the better it will work. It also usually works better if you can talk out loud; your ear will hear your voice and create a feedback loop, which helps your mind to come back to the present moment. This exercise can be shortened or lengthened until you notice you are feeling calmer. To shorten the exercise, just name three things you can see, hear and feel, and repeat until you feel calmer. To lengthen, name five things you can see, hear and feel, adding in smell and taste if appropriate and keep repeating until you feel calmer.”
For this exercise it does not matter whether you are breathing slowly, rapidly or in short bursts, just focus on your body and the space you are in. If you are looking for more mindfulness techniques, see our Mind Matters video series on mindfulness and self-compassion practices.
Things to keep in mind
- Remind yourself that lockdowns and restrictions are temporary. Staying at home is not a punishment, it’s to protect yourself and those around you by slowing the spread of the virus.
- Take time to be grateful for the small things, such as sunshine or catching up with an old friend on the phone.
- Focus on the things that you can help to control that will reduce the impact of COVID-19, such as maintaining your wellbeing with good nutrition, physical activity and enough sleep, good hand hygiene, practising social distancing, limiting negative news consumption and treating yourself and others with kindness.
- Make time for activities you enjoy such as reading a good book, watching a new TV show or tending to your garden.
- Above all, be kind to yourself.
People with pre-existing mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of any new or worsening symptoms. If you need to talk to someone, reach out to a support service such as Lifeline (13 11 14), who provide 24-hour support to listen to how you are feeling and offer you information and advice.
If you would like to hear more from Debra, we have recorded a webinar which is available on our YouTube channel, Lung Foundation Australia.
We’re here for you
Remember our Information and Support Centre staff are available to connect you with resources and support services to help reduce the impact of COVID-19. Also keep an eye on our website and Facebook page for COVID-19 information. Our Information and Support Centre is open Monday to Friday 8:00am-4:30pm.