Mental Health

Your Emotions Matter, Your Breath Matters

Let's talk about COPD and your feelings

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can have serious effects on a person’s life—and not just on their lung health. When dealing with a chronic disease like COPD, it is normal to experience feelings of anxiety, sadness, and fear. In fact, more than one-third of people with COPD experience symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The link between COPD and mental health

A diagnosis of COPD may affect a person’s mental health for many reasons.

• A person may feel overwhelmed when they are first diagnosed or when they find out their condition has progressed.

• Shortness of breath can cause anxiety or panic attacks in some people with COPD.

• Physical changes—such as weight loss, sleeping issues, eating problems, and fatigue—can cause distress and low mood.

• A person might feel anxious about their future as their condition worsens.

• Grief may accompany the loss of abilities that a person previously had.

• Someone with COPD may feel guilty for their diagnosis and for asking for help from caregivers and loved ones.

Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression can also make physical symptoms worse. People may become more aware of and reactive to physical sensations and may become fearful of what they represent. Anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions can make it harder to follow a treatment plan, as people may be too tired or distracted to do so. Things like exercising or even taking medication can become difficult. As a result of all of this, people often experience a lower quality of life.

 

When feeling like this, some may isolate themselves, withdrawing from their social lives. Others may turn to alcohol, cigarettes, or other unhealthy coping mechanisms—but these only tend to worsen physical and emotional symptoms in the long run.

 

On the other hand, when a person takes steps to address and care for their mental health concerns, it can do more than just improve their mood. Properly managing anxiety, depression, grief, PTSD, and more can increase a person’s ability to stick to their treatment, improve their physical health, and reduce their medical costs. Fighting off intense feelings of anxiety, sadness, and fear can be challenging, but it is well worth the effort.

Diagnosis

When facing anxiety and depression, a person might experience:

• Feeling sad, hopeless, or numb for prolonged periods of time

• Lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed

• Feeling intense worry or panic

• Lack of motivation

• Extreme exhaustion or fatigue

• Irritability

• Sleeping too much or not enough

• Social withdrawal

• Feeling guilty or worthless

• Suicidal thoughts

If you are experiencing any of these feelings, please don’t feel that you need to face them alone. Talk to your health care provider. They can suggest appropriate treatments to provide you with the help you need.

What you can do?

It may not be easy, but there are several steps you can take to manage mental health conditions that often come with a diagnosis of COPD:

• Connect with friends and family. Be honest with them about how you’re feeling, and let them give you support. Try to connect with friends at least once a week.

• Connect with others who understand what you’re going through. This can include attending local support groups, some of which are even virtual.

• Advocate for yourself! Talk to your doctor and health care team about how you’re feeling.

• Ask your health care team if you are eligible for any disability support programs.

• If you are able to, consider speaking with a counsellor or psychologist.

• Stay active as much as you can. Ideally, try to spend some time outside every single day.

• Manage stress through relaxing activities like journaling and breathing exercises.

• Keep a consistent routine to help lower stress levels.

• Work on recognizing what you can control and what you can’t—this can help you to move forward.

Below are just some of the treatment options available for people with COPD experiencing mental health challenges.

1. Self-care — This doesn’t have to mean bubble baths. Self-care can mean protecting your energy for tasks that are essential to you. It can mean getting enough rest or keeping a symptom journal. It can mean identifying and avoiding your COPD triggers. It can mean setting a timer or alert so you don’t forget your medications or puffers. All of these are important ways you can take control.

2. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) — This form of therapy can be done one-on-one with a counsellor, in a group setting, with a book or workbook, or even for free online! CBT is an excellent way for people to process the mental and physical difficulties that come with having a chronic illness. Other types of therapy may help too, given your particular history or situation.

3. Medications for mental health and COPD symptoms — There are many medications available to help with the symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and more. Additionally, if your symptoms of COPD are not well controlled, it is easy to feel mentally unwell. Talk to your health care team if you feel your medications need to be changed.

4. Pulmonary Rehabilitation — These programs offer strategies to help improve your symptoms by breathing more effectively and doing specific, targeted exercises.

5. Nutritional counselling — Good nutrition is essential for people with COPD to feel their best. Check out these online resources or consider booking an appointment with a registered dietitian.

Treatment options

Below are just some of the treatment options available for people with COPD experiencing mental health challenges.

1. Self-care — This doesn’t have to mean bubble baths. Self-care can mean protecting your energy for tasks that are essential to you. It can mean getting enough rest or keeping a symptom journal. It can mean identifying and avoiding your COPD triggers. It can mean setting a timer or alert so you don’t forget your medications or puffers. All of these are important ways you can take control.

2. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) — This form of therapy can be done one-on-one with a counsellor, in a group setting, with a book or workbook, or even for free online! CBT is an excellent way for people to process the mental and physical difficulties that come with having a chronic illness. Other types of therapy may help too, given your particular history or situation.

3. Medications for mental health and COPD symptoms — There are many medications available to help with the symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and more. Additionally, if your symptoms of COPD are not well controlled, it is easy to feel mentally unwell. Talk to your health care team if you feel your medications need to be changed.

4. Pulmonary Rehabilitation — These programs offer strategies to help improve your symptoms by breathing more effectively and doing specific, targeted exercises.

5. Nutritional counselling — Good nutrition is essential for people with COPD to feel their best. Check out these online resources or consider booking an appointment with a registered dietitian.

Help for caregivers

COPD affects not only the person with the diagnosis but also their family and friends. The role of a caregiver is very important—and sometimes challenging. Being a caregiver takes a lot of time, energy, and effort. Over time, this can begin to take a toll on a person’s mental, emotional, and physical health.

A caregiver’s focus is naturally on the person they are caring for. However, it’s essential that they also attend to their own health and remember to take care of their own needs. By reaching out for the support they need, caregivers will make themselves feel better, which will, in turn, make the person they are caring for feel better too.

If you are a caregiver, know that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times. Don’t keep your feelings to yourself—talk to a friend, health care professional, or someone else you trust about what you’re going through. Stay in touch with your family members and friends as much as you can, and ask for help when you need it. Remember to also take time for yourself to do things you enjoy—whether it’s a hobby, taking a long walk, or calling a friend.

It’s natural for the diagnosis of COPD to lead to feelings of sadness, anger, and fear. In some cases, these feelings represent anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition. Seeking treatment for depression and anxiety is critical to a person’s overall wellbeing.

If you are experiencing these feelings, please reach out for help. There are many treatment options available to help you feel better. To learn more about COPD, click here.