Supportive care strategies

Mind Matters

Each and every person who lives with a lung condition will face challenges and need different types of support at different times. Over time, you will develop your own personal ‘toolbox’ of supportive strategies to help you navigate the challenges and day-to-day aspects of living with a lung condition.

Why focus on self-care?

Self-care is about undertaking any activity that can help with your physical, emotional and mental health. It is a regular commitment to look after yourself through activities that can help to protect your wellbeing. Paying attention to what is happening, both physically and emotionally, can help to identify when something is affecting you adversely.  

It is important to take time out to take care of your mental and physical health. Self-care can be an everyday way of living by including it into your day-to-day routine a to maintain positive wellbeing. It can take many shapes and forms and may be different for everyone. It does not need to take up much time or cost a lot of money. Identify the activities which will be most beneficial to you.   

Self-care strategies can involve creating a routine, moving your body and dedicating time to reflect on your thoughts and feelings. 

Check lists and code words 

Create a list of activities you can do that may make you feel more on top of things.  In times when you may be struggling, refer to the list for something to do that may help. It can be tricky to think of helpful things when you feel flat and low, so a checklist is often beneficial.  

“Over time and through my ‘bad patches’ I’ve come to learn what triggers me and what helps when I am struggling.  I have my go to checklist of things I can do that make a difference to my wellbeing.” – Anonymous, living with bronchiectasis.

Another strategy which may be helpful is to organise a ‘code word’ that you and your family know. Use this word to alert them when you are having a tough time, feeling flat and low or just need to go and find a quiet place. The code word should be a bit abstract so when you say it, it is not confused with something else. 

Being present

Brains are tricky and will entertain themselves if they are not required to actively think or be present. Given ‘free time’, your thoughts may drift back to the past to overthink and worry about a situation or event. Sometimes your thoughts move forward and try to do contingency planning and worst-case scenario thinking. When your brain does this type of thing it often leads to feeling upset or distressed.  

Staying present is the best way to keep your brain from overthinking. Practicing being present, as often as you can, will help you to feel calmer and more in control, more often. However, getting your brain to stay present is a bit like asking a three-year-old to sit still: it can be difficult.  

Most brains are used to having ‘free rein’ and going wherever they like. When we start to train our brain to be still and stay present, it will often ‘rebel’. When you begin to practise, be kind and gentle with yourself when you notice that your thoughts have wandered. You can find ways to practise being present by using our Mindfulness and Self-compassion guided practices. 

Noticing thoughts and feelings

You can help yourself to adapt to uncertainty and change. One way of dealing with change, uncertainty or difficult circumstances is to notice what you are thinking and the emotions that rise up from those thoughts. Identifying some of the thoughts can help us to better connect how these thoughts or ‘self-talk’ make us feel.  

The next step is to validate your right to feel that way. This is sometimes the trickiest step. A part of your brain might be telling you that you should not feel that way or maybe that you are being silly, weak or irrational. Your brain is generally very good at ‘invalidating’ your right to feel a certain way but berating yourself does not help.   Your brain is wired to assess and judge pretty much everything, so it is not surprising that it learns to judge its own thoughts. It is far more useful to be kind and compassionate towards yourself. 

Practicing self-kindness and compassion  

Ask yourself: what would I say if someone I loved dearly was feeling the same way and having the same thoughts? It is almost certain that you would be kinder, more compassionate and less judgemental with them than you are with yourself. When you have thought about what you would say to this loved one, simply say it to yourself. To make this even more effective, say it out loud.

If you are having a flat or tough day, ask yourself what you would most benefit from right now. Remember to think inside your sphere of control. Wishing for new lungs or a cure is just going to increase your sense of hopelessness. What do you need right now? It might be to pause and take a 10-minute break. You might benefit from talking to someone, so call a friend or support line. Do you need to take a mental health day, sit in the sun or spend time in the garden? Maybe you need to make an appointment or start a task you have been putting off. Try to be your own best friend, gently encourage yourself to do what needs to be done. One step at a time.

Watch our webinar on how to incorporate self-compassion and mindfulness into your day to day life.

Gratitude 

Gratitude is a fabulous way to stay optimistic and positive. Each day, even on those days that you feel overwhelmed, exhausted or low, try to think about a few things that you are grateful for. It might be that the sun is shining or you might be grateful for a friend; while you are thinking about them, why not give them a call? You might be grateful for nice neighbours who always say hello.    

However, gratitude is not a ‘magic elixir’, it won’t necessarily make you feel immediately positive and optimistic. Sometimes it will, but sometimes you need to build up to it. Do it every day and eventually it may help. Keep giving your brain opportunities to feel OK, eventually it will take advantage of the opportunity and surprise you. 

“I try to do 10 minutes of meditation or mindfulness practice each day for reflection and finding gratitude. It is a quiet time to heal, build resilience, shut down the negatives and gain strength from the positives.” – Anonymous, living with bronchiectasis.

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Mind Matters was part funded by a COVID Response Grant from MSD.

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