Your coping toolbox
Most of us have various ways of coping with difficult situations, which we have learned over time. These could include:
- seeking more information
- trying to fix the problem
- having a laugh to feel better
- trying to be strong and “soldiering on”
- distracting ourselves from unhelpful thoughts and feelings
- talking things through to try to make sense of what is happening.
How you cope depends on the type of situation you are facing, past experiences, your personality, upbringing and role models. It is important to think about what has worked for you in the past, but accept that after a cancer diagnosis you might need more than your usual ways of coping. There is no best or right way of coping, but having a few strategies may help you feel more in control.
Some coping strategies are less helpful, however. Many people go back and forth between denial and acceptance as they come to terms with a cancer diagnosis. When denial is ongoing, it can become hard to make decisions about treatment, or it could mean you avoid treatment or follow-up appointments. Some people use alcohol and drugs to cope with stressful situations. These may appear to provide relief in the short term, but can cause emotional and physical harm and could affect how well the cancer treatment works.
If you think you might be in denial or starting to rely on alcohol or drugs to cope, it is important to talk to your cancer care team about getting professional support. With the right help, it is possible to learn new ways of coping.
Learn more about:
- Tools for coping
- Gathering information
- Making decisions
- Using complementary therapies
- Managing your thoughts
- Improving sleep
Dr Anna Hughes, Liaison Psychiatrist and Psycho-oncologist, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Mary Bairstow, Senior Social Worker, Cancer Centre, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Anita Bamert, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria, VIC; Sally Carveth, Assistant Coordinator, Cancer Support Leader Program, Cancer Council NSW; Matt Featherstone, Consumer; Dr Charlotte Tottman, Clinical Psychologist, Allied Consultant Psychologists and Flinders University, SA; Shirley Witko, Senior Social Worker, Comprehensive Cancer Centre, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA.
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Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.
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