Having a respiratory illness such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can be exhausting as it affects so many aspects of a person’s life. In a recent survey of our consumers, almost half of the respondents felt their overall wellbeing was negatively impacted by their condition, with anxiety and depression a common theme.
This can stem from:
- Constant anticipation of a flare-up, with traumatic memories of past events.
- Ceasing a loved activity because it triggers the condition, and then missing the joy of it.
- Being impacted by the time and cost of doctors’ appointments and medications.
- Feeling embarrassed by symptoms such as coughing or shortness of breath, leading to avoiding social outings and therefore increased feelings of isolation.
- The side effects of medications, such as oral corticosteroids, can increase feelings of irritability, anxiety and depression.
While all valid concerns, these worries can be cyclic and lead to lower mood and motivation, reduced compliance with medication, which in turn exacerbates symptoms, leading to poorer mental health.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We’ve pulled together some simple tips to help maintain good mental health while living with a respiratory condition.
Studies have shown that physical activity releases endorphins, known as the ‘feel-good’ hormones. It boosts your mood along with keeping you fit and well which improves your lung health. If you’re uncertain about exercising alone, ask a friend or family member to join you.
If you’re just getting started or struggling with your usual activities, you may need to adjust it slightly so have a discussion with your GP or physiotherapist. While a little bit of breathlessness might be normal for the activity, it’s important that you understand your symptoms and triggers and have an Action Plan in place.
Mindfulness is simply focusing on the present moment instead of worrying about the past or future. Another coping technique for stress is becoming familiar with how your body feels and learning how to relax your body and nerves on purpose.
Try some different techniques and find what best suits you. Here are a few examples:
- Close your eyes, wriggle your toes, and concentrate on how they feel tapping the surface beneath them
- Focus your attention on the air going in and out of your nose as you take deep calm breaths
- Notice where your body feels tight and, as you breathe out, consciously relax the heavy muscles in that area
There are many mindfulness apps and resources available online, including this series from the Lung Foundation.
Watch your food and drink
Your respiratory condition may flare-up after eating certain foods or drinks – the same applies for your mood. Caffeinated and high-sugar items may make your heart race, and alcohol is a known depressant. Consuming a well-balanced healthy diet will also improve your health and boost your energy levels. Need some guidance? Ask your GP about a referral to a dietician (which you may be able to access through a Chronic Disease Management Plan or through your private health fund).
See a mental health professional
Counsellors and psychologists can provide validation of your past experiences along with important coping strategies for when you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed. It’s important to find someone who suits you, so it’s okay to meet with different ones until you find a match. To assist with the cost of each session, ask your GP whether you are eligible for the Medicare Mental Health Care Plan, or your private health fund if they will cover the sessions.
If your depression or anxiety is hindering you from living a full life, and other options are not having a lasting effect, then you may want to discuss further options with your GP. This may include seeing a mental health professional, changes to diet and/or exercise, or introducing medication. Medication is not the right solution for everyone but is also nothing to be ashamed or scared of – just like our respiratory conditions, sometimes we need medication to help us stay healthy.
There is help available to assist you with managing your physical and mental health. Your first stop should be your GP but other mental health services and resources include: