How to Protect Your Mental Well-Being

10

People with lung cancer have an increased risk of mental health challenges, including:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • post-traumatic stress
  • suicidal thoughts and behavior

A cancer diagnosis can affect anyone’s mental well-being, though you’re more likely to experience mental health challenges if you have a past history of a mental health condition.

A cancer diagnosis may bring up difficult emotions, such as fear, loss of control, or uncertainty about your future.

You may find it stressful to manage the physical symptoms of cancer, side effects of treatment, or financial costs of care.

The diagnosis may also affect your sense of self. You may worry about what other people will think or how they’ll respond to your diagnosis.

Lung cancer in particular carries a stigma because of its association with smoking. This can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, self-blame, or despair — even if you’ve never smoked.

Taking steps to support your mental health can help improve your quality of life. It may make it easier to follow your cancer treatment plan and improve your outlook with lung cancer.

Here are some ways to manage your mental health when you’re living with lung cancer.

Take an active role in your cancer treatment

Understanding the ins and outs of your lung cancer treatment plan may have benefits for your mental health.

Research from 2019 suggested that people with lung cancer have more realistic treatment expectations when they’re actively involved in making decisions about their own care.

Taking an active role in treatment decisions may help you:

  • follow your treatment plan
  • improve your treatment outcomes
  • increase your treatment satisfaction

To get more involved in your cancer care:

  • Learn about the type of lung cancer you have and how it may affect you.
  • Ask your cancer care team questions about your condition.
  • Look for credible sources of information and support online.

This may help you gain a greater sense of control.

On the other hand, spending too much time researching your condition may have negative effects on your well-being. Balance is important, so pay attention to how you’re feeling and take a break when you need it.

Lean on your support team

Members of your cancer care team, personal support network, and patient advocacy groups can help you manage living with lung cancer.

Your cancer care team may include many healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, nutritionists, psychologists, and social workers.

Members of your cancer care team may provide palliative care to help you manage lung cancer symptoms and side effects of treatment. A 2017 review of studies linked palliative care to improved quality of life and survival.

Family, friends, and volunteers may also be important members of your support team.

They can listen to your concerns and help you manage the day-to-day challenges of living with cancer. For example, they may drive you to medical appointments or prepare meals for you.

Seek professional counseling

If you think you might have anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges, let your doctor know.

They may refer you to a psychologist, social worker, or other mental health professional who specializes in supporting people with cancer.

You may also find a mental health professional using an online search or by asking peers for recommendations.

A mental health professional can help address your emotional needs using cognitive behavioral therapy or other types of counseling. They can help you examine your fears and find ways to cope.

Psychiatrists and other doctors can prescribe medication to treat depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions.

Find supportive connections

Talking about your lung cancer diagnosis and treatment may help you cope with their effects on your physical and mental health.

Family members, friends, and other loved ones may provide a sounding board and emotional support.

You may also find it helpful to connect with other people who have lung cancer.

You can search for lung cancer support groups and peer-to-peer programs through the American Lung Association, GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer, CancerCare, or other patient advocacy groups.

Try mind-body therapies

You might consider trying complementary mind-body therapies and relaxation techniques, such as:

  • mindfulness meditation
  • yoga
  • tai chi
  • qi gong

These may help you:

  • relax
  • relieve stress
  • reduce anxiety
  • cope with pain
  • sleep better

You may find meditation, yoga, or tai chi classes locally or online. Many apps are also available to help you develop these relaxation techniques.

Engage in pleasurable pastimes

Participating in activities that you enjoy may:

  • take your mind off challenging thoughts and feelings
  • reduce stress
  • provide joy

This may help improve your mood and mental health.

If lung cancer symptoms make it hard to participate in your usual pastimes, you may be able to modify those activities or find new hobbies to explore.

Take care of your body

Practicing healthy habits can help improve your overall health and well-being. To care for your body, try to:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Exercise regularly.

If symptoms of lung cancer make it hard to exercise, talk with members of your cancer care team about strategies for staying active.

Your doctor may also encourage you to quit smoking, if you smoke. They may prescribe medication, smoking cessation counseling, or a combination of both to help you quit.