Recognising that there is a problem is the first step to dealing with it, even if you don’t know what’s causing it. Here are some ways to deal with feelings of anxiety and depression.
Don’t keep it to yourself
Talking to someone about the problem can make it seem more manageable. It may help if you choose to talk to someone close to you – a friend or a member of your family. Or you may prefer to talk to someone with a similar lung condition. The British Lung Foundation support network, Breathe Easy, can help.
Most people with depression or anxiety can be treated by their GP. Sometimes they may suggest that you see a psychiatrist or psychotherapist, or a member of the community mental health team. These are all people who can help you get on your way to recovery.
Or you might prefer to speak to someone you don’t know, by calling a helpline, for example. You can contact the British Lung Foundation Helpline on 03000 030 555. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and calls are charged at a local rate.
You'll find some more sources of help and support in the ‘Further information’ section.
People with lung disease often find their breathing gets difficult when they are upset, angry or anxious. Worries about breathing can stop people from doing things they would like to, and this can add to feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Breathing techniques can help overcome feelings of breathlessness and control anxiety.
You can find some breathing control exercises in the ‘About anxiety’ section. You can also ask your respiratory nurse or a physiotherapist for more information about breathing exercises. Or, if you have COPD please see our page on COPD: living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for suitable breathing exercises.
Do something active
Try walking around the house and garden. Get outside, even if only for a short, slow walk. This will help you to keep physically fit, and you may sleep better. Try to keep active. This could be doing housework, walking to the local shop, or any part of your normal routine. It can help take your mind off painful thoughts which make you more depressed, and can also use up the extra adrenalin that comes with anxiety.
Just doing one thing each day, for example going out for the paper or doing the washing up, can make you feel a lot better about yourself. Think about when in the day you feel best (for example lunchtime, first thing in the morning), and try to do something then.
Do things you enjoy
Arrange to meet friends, or ask a friend to visit you, even just for a coffee. Phone someone you haven't seen for a while. Cook a simple meal. Starting a new hobby can also be a good way to meet people, focus your mind and have some fun.
Try to eat a good, balanced diet, even though you may not always feel like eating. Eat small meals more often rather than just three big meals. This can be much more comfortable for people with a lung condition. Content and quality of your food are most important.
Visit the ‘Healthy eating and your lungs’ section of the website for more information about diet and nutrition.
Resist the temptation to drown your sorrows with a drink. Although a small glass of sherry or wine might help you sleep, drinking lots of alcohol actually makes depression and anxiety worse. It may make you feel better for a few hours, but you will feel worse again afterwards and it does not mix with antidepressant tablets.
Check with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist whether it’s safe to take alcohol at all with your medication, or read the leaflet that comes in the packet.
Try not to worry about finding it difficult to sleep. It can be helpful to listen to the radio or watch TV while you're lying down and resting your body, even if you can't sleep. If you can occupy your mind in this way, you may find it easier to get off to sleep.
If you are feeling depressed, remind yourself that depression is an illness that many other people have gone through, and recovered from.
Saying “no” Learn not to take too much on. Too many demands on your time can increase your anxiety. When you say “no”, you are taking back control of your life.
You can help yourself relax using simple techniques like having a bath or making a warm milky drink. Take time out. It's good to spend some time by yourself. Or, try this quick relaxation technique:
- Loosen your clothing and get comfortable.
- Tighten the muscles in your toes. Hold for a count of 10.
- Relax and enjoy the sensation of release from tension.
- Flex (spread out) the muscles in your feet. Hold for a count of 10. Relax.
- Move slowly up through your body – legs, stomach, back, neck and face – tightening and relaxing muscles as you go.
- Breathe deeply and slowly.
You might find doing all this to some relaxing music will help as well. There are lots of relaxation tapes and books available, so ask at your local library or bookshop or look online for ones that you can download.
Physiotherapy for your breathing can also help. Speak to your doctor or nurse about this.
Doing something like a crossword or Sudoku puzzle can help take your mind off things.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is a course (usually six to eight weeks) of twice-weekly classes. It is usually run by a physiotherapist with help from doctors, pharmacists, nurses, etc. It involves learning about your lung condition and doing gentle exercise at a level that is safe for you. It also provides an opportunity to meet other people with lung conditions and share experiences.
We know that pulmonary rehabilitation improves your fitness and your mood. In other words, it can make you feel less depressed, more able to cope and less hopeless about the future. The gentle exercise can also use up adrenalin generated by anxiety.
Pulmonary rehabilitation isn't available everywhere, and it isn't suitable for everyone. You should speak with your nurse or doctor about it.
Some people find complementary therapies like hypnosis, massage and acupuncture useful. But remember not to take any herbal or other remedies without checking with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
For further information look at the ‘Complementary therapies’ section of the website.
Get some help or support
Joining a self-help group can be useful if you want to meet people who share your experiences. You may have a local Breathe Easy group near to you. You can meet people with similar lung conditions and perhaps pick up some useful coping strategies.
Don't be afraid to ask for help. Remember – depression and anxiety are more common than you think and they can be treated successfully.