COPD and Depression: The Unspoken Reality

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Anxiety and depression are often under diagnosed and undertreated in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The reality, however, is that COPD and depression often go hand-in-hand. World Health Day is April 7, and mental health is just as important as physical health. In honor of that, we are shedding some light on a topic that too often gets brushed under the rug: COPD and depression.

Q: How do I know if I’m depressed?

A: Depression can be sneaky. Sometimes, it can sneak into your life without you even realizing it – until one day it just hits you, and you realize, I just haven’t felt like myself lately. Understanding the symptoms can be tricky, and there are different levels of depression that range from mild to severe. If you think you might be experiencing some depression in your life, stop and take a mental inventory. Here are some symptoms of depression that might indicate that you may be suffering from depression:

  • Feeling irritable or angry with others
  • Being overly sensitive to criticism
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Feeling hopeless or even suicidal
  • Experiencing trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Having a lack of interest in people or activities you once enjoyed
  • Feeling lethargic or lacking motivation
  • Experiencing an increased or decreased appetite
  • Feeling sad for weeks at a time or crying a lot
  • Inability to enjoy yourself or find humor in things

If you are feeling these symptoms, it’s ok; you’re not alone. In fact, a study found that COPD patients are 85 percent more likely to experience anxiety than those without COPD.

Q: What do I do if I’m depressed?

A: You have to get help. If you think you might be depressed, immediately seek the help of a professional who can help you to start feeling better again. The first step is telling your primary care provider that you’re experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety. Your doctor is a great resource and may be able to give you some recommendations on who to talk to. You can also try searching online; however, it’s best to speak with your doctor first for a recommendation because sifting through a sea of doctors’ names online can be an overwhelming and frustrating experience. Start with someone you know and trust who can guide you in the right direction.

Perhaps starting talk therapy with a mental health professional or trying out an antidepressant medication as prescribed by your doctor will help to alleviate some of your feelings of depression. It’s important to always take your medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor and to talk with your doctor openly about how you’re feeling. Your doctor can be a great resource for you and can assist you in finding the help you need for COPD and depression.

Q: How do I tell my friends and family?

COPD and Depression: The Unspoken Reality

A: Telling someone takes great strength. Not all people with COPD smoked; however, for those who have smoked at some point in their lives, feelings of guilt and shame can be common. Those feelings are a heavy burden to carry, and when left unaddressed, can culminate into depression and anxiety. Sometimes, sharing your feelings with someone close to you can help alleviate the load that you’ve been carrying. Oftentimes, we don’t realize how heavy it is until we start to feel some relief. Isolation fuels depression. Telling someone is a great first step in starting to feel better.

Try speaking with someone that you are close with and trust. You might consider prefacing the conversation by saying that you just need them to listen, and that you don’t expect them to have all of the answers.

Q: How do I get better with COPD and depression?

A: Take small steps. Be patient with yourself. COPD and depression take a long time to develop, and just the same, it’s going to take time to alleviate the associated feelings of COPD and depression and anxiety. In addition to seeking professional help, there are things that you can do at home to feel better, too. Let’s take a look at a few things that have helped others in similar situations.

  • Get moving. There is nothing more powerful than exercise. It is therapeutic for your body and your mind. We know it can be difficult when you have COPD and are already struggling to breathe. But exercising is one of the best things that you can do for both your COPD and depression. It strengthens your lungs, helping you to breathe easier. It also pumps more oxygen into your brain and releases endorphins, reducing stress and improving your mood. You don’t have to go all out to start. Try walking in place while you watch TV or going for a walk around the block. Anything that you do is a step in the right direction, and don’t forget to reward yourself for taking a step toward better physical and mental health.
  • Eat mood-boosting food. Avoid foods that trigger stress and depression, including caffeine, alcohol, trans fat, sugar and refined carbs. Rather, shoot for foods that haven’t been processed, like fruits and vegetables, and foods that are rich in omega-3s, which is great for your brain. Some omega-3 rich foods include: seafood, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, soybeans and spinach. Not sure what to eat? Download our recipe guide filled with great lung-healthy recipes.
  • Find new ways to connect with the world around you. Oftentimes when we feel sad, we isolate ourselves from the world around us. Feeling that connection again can be extremely therapeutic. Try going for a walk to get in touch with nature, care for a pet, volunteer, invite a friend to lunch or try out a new hobby. It won’t be easy at first, but the more you get out there, the easier it gets.

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