Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is not an easy disease to manage, as you may already know. The numerous symptoms that limit your ability to do things, the wide array of commonly linked diseases and illnesses, and thinking about life before your diagnosis all contribute to the difficulties you may have managing your disease.
There is one illness that is commonly linked to COPD in particular that a lot of people don’t like to talk about, depression. Like COPD, there is a stigma associated with depression, which needs to be broken.
If you suffer from COPD related depression, know that you are not alone. A study done by Abebaw Yohannes, PhD, from Manchester Metropolitan University estimates that as many as 40% of COPD patients will develop clinically significant depression over the course of their disease. In fact, it’s reported that levels of depression are greater in people with COPD than people suffering from other chronic diseases.
In this post we are going to briefly go over why COPD and depression are commonly linked and how depression affects COPD. Then we will go in-depth on different ways you can treat depression, some you may already know and some you may not!
Why is Depression Commonly Linked to COPD?
COPD is a life-changing disease. From the moment you get diagnosed you are asked/told to make significant lifestyle changes by your doctor like quit smoking, change your diet, exercise more, etc. On top of the lifestyle changes your doctor tells you to make, the disease itself limits your ability to do things and recent studies have even linked COPD to structural changes in certain brain regions.
All of these changes can be a lot to take in at once, especially after your initial diagnosis. It can be overwhelming and cause you to think negative thoughts and feel hopeless.
Although COPD related depression is common after you get diagnosed, many people with COPD don’t develop depression until later on in the disease. This can happen for a number of different reasons:
- You are sleep deprived
- You have appetite disturbances
- You have a lack of self-confidence
- Your inability to do activities you once enjoyed hinders your happiness
- Your inability to complete tasks that were once simple makes life less enjoyable
- Feeling hopeless
Don’t worry we will go over how to combat these issues in a little bit.
How Does Depression Affect COPD?
Plain and simple, depression and COPD don’t mix well. Both illnesses are debilitating and they feed off of each other in negative ways. Depression can:
- Weaken your immune system
- Worsen your COPD symptoms
- Make you lose your appetite
- Cause sleeping problems
- Cause random aches and pains
- Cause more COPD exacerbations
- Cause more hospitalizations
- Decrease your confidence
Because everyone is different, these are general ways depression can affect your COPD. Your depression could be affecting you in completely different ways, and that’s okay. You just need to make sure you address the issue at hand and treat your depression as soon as possible.
7 Actionable Tips You Can Use To Combat, Manage, and Beat COPD Related Depression
1. Seek Professional Help
Hands down, the best thing you can do if you think you suffer from depression is to seek out professional help. Talking to a psychiatrist would be your best option, but you can even go speak with your regular doctor about being depressed. If you go to your regular doctor, they may refer you to a psychiatrist to help you get the most out of your treatment.
Getting professional help will give you a higher chance of successfully managing and beating your depression. Your doctor or psychiatrist will listen to what you have been experiencing and assess your situation to offer the best treatment options and coping strategies they think will work for you. The treatment options and coping strategies can range from prescription medications like anti-depressants to recommending that you exercise more.
Not only will you receive treatment options, you will also have a safe place to talk about anything and everything on your mind. This could be one of the most beneficial aspects of getting professional help. Your psychiatrist will openly listen to whatever it is you have to say and provide you with support and encouragement. Sometimes that’s exactly what you need.
In order for you to be able to manage your COPD and your depression to the best of your ability, you need to set goals that you are striving to reach. You can have daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, etc. Your doctor or your psychiatrist will be a great help when it comes to setting these personal goals. You two will work together to determine what works best for you.
In short, individual therapy will provide you with support and encouragement while teaching you how to set new goals and learn new coping strategies.
When you’re battling a disease/illness like COPD or depression having a tight knit support system of family and friends can make a significant difference in your ability to effectively manage the disease. Unfortunately due to the stigma associated with both illnesses, and the fact that your family and friends might not understand what you’re going through, you might not feel like you have that tight knit support group.
Family therapy is a great way to help shape your support system. This family therapy is a bit different than what you may be thinking. It’s not for troubled families (although it can be); it’s a place for you to bring your family to help educate them about your disease; COPD, depression, or both, and what you’re going through.
Family therapy doesn’t just benefit you. Whether you realize it or not, your family is going through a lot too. Going to family therapy for your COPD or COPD related depression can help your family adjust well to the changes you are going through.
COPD and depression share a lot of symptoms and side effects like fatigue, lack of motivation, and lack of confidence that prevent you from exercising or being active. However, exercising and being active are two of the most effective ways to treat and manage both illnesses.
Exercising is tough to incorporate into your regular schedule, but when you’re depressed and battling COPD it can almost seem impossible. However, exercising doesn’t just benefit you in physical ways, it can improve your self-confidence, improve your general mood, regulate your sleeping patterns, improve your appetite and provide you with a sense of accomplishment. All of which will help you manage and beat your depression!
When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins that interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce the perception of pain. Endorphins are also known to trigger a positive feeling in your body that can uplift your mood and give you a euphoric feeling or a “runner’s high”. The effects you get from endorphins being released in your brain, like improving your mood and regulating your sleep schedule, can last for up to a few days, so consistency is key when you are using exercise to ward off feelings of depression.
Along with the uplifting and euphoric feeling from an endorphin release, exercising provides you with a feeling of accomplishment. No matter if you walked for 3 miles and blew past your daily goal, or if you had to cut your workout short to make sure you didn’t over do it you are still doing more than those sitting on the couch. That is something to be proud of! You are still doing your best and don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Two common causes for COPD related depression include sleep deprivation and appetite disturbances. While there are a handful of reasons why you may have troubles sleeping or eating, exercising can help regulate your sleep schedule and your appetite.
Having a regular workout routine will burn more calories and make you hungry when you might not normally have an appetite. Not to mention, your body NEEDS to be replenished with protein and nutrients after a workout.
Sleeping problems associated with COPD and d epression are much more common than you might think. Certain medications might interfere with your sleep schedule, anxiety can keep you up at night, and feeling short of breath definitely makes it hard to fall asleep.
Having a regular exercise routine can help regulate your sleep schedule by causing you to feel more tired at the end of the day, the endorphins released during your workout will help ward off feelings of anxiety, and it can strengthen the muscles around your lungs and in your diaphragm to help alleviate the feeling of breathlessness.
Before you start adding exercise to your daily routine, make sure you speak with your doctor first. They will know what you can and cannot do and they will work with you to set goals and as you progress you will be able to add more to your workouts.
Great Online Resources for Exercising
For those of you who have gotten the okay from your doctor, here are a few places you can go to get some great exercise tips online for free!
Sit and Be Fit was founded in 1985 by registered nurse Mary Ann Wilson. It is a non-profit organization committed to healthy aging advocacy that has been hugely successful. You will find a plethora of video exercises that are easy to do in the comfort of your own home on the Sit and Be Fit website and they even have a COPD section that focuses on breathing exercises.
Eldergym is an online senior fitness resource that promotes safe, simple, and effective exercises for seniors and the elderly. Doug Schrift, the creator of Eldergym, is a Physical Therpaist, Certified Geriatric Specialist, and a senior fitness coach. On the website you will find 80 easy-to-follow workout videos that you can access for free! You can also order workout equipment and DVDs to use at home.
HASfit is a fantastic resource at your disposal. It has a wide variety of video workouts for you to follow that will help strengthen your muscles, improve your stamina, and more. Along with video workouts HASfit is complete with two blogs (one for nutrition and one for exercise), and it has it’s own nutrition section. You can join the HASfit community for free or you can just visit the site, watch their videos, and read their articles.
3. Become More Active
I know we just discussed exercising and becoming more active might sound like the same type of advice, but don’t worry, this one has nothing to do with working out. Self-confidence goes a long way when you’re dealing with an illness like COPD or depression. Unfortunately both illnesses tend to find ways to diminish your self-confidence, but that doesn’t have to happen!
It’s easier said than done, but if you can become more active and do things you truly enjoy you will notice an upswing in your self-confidence. It really doesn’t matter what you do to become more active as long as it’s something you love to do or want to try doing. You don’t have to pick a physical activity, it can be something like meeting with friends to play cards, taking your grandchildren to the movies, or going out to dinner with your loved one.
Making this kind of change in your life probably won’t happen overnight and that’s completely okay! There will be some trial and error trying to find new things you like to do and it may take some time for your body to get used to being more active.
Check out this list if you are looking for some ideas on how you can become more active:
- Meet with friends to get lunch on a regular basis
- Meet with friends to play cards or board games on a regular basis
- Pick up a new hobby
- Pick up an old hobby
- Take a course to learn something (pottery, painting, computers, cooking, etc.)
- Go to sporting events
- Take a vacation
- Visit your grandchildren/have your grandchildren visit you
- Go fishing
- Go golfing
- Start a garden at home
- Attend a book club
- Go to a trade show
- Get out and enjoy nature
Getting active in this way can be a huge morale booster. Getting out of your house and subjecting yourself to social interaction will improve your self-confidence and help you cope with both depression and COPD.
4. Find a Support Group
Your family and friends will always be a part of your support group, but sometimes they might not fully understand what you’re going through. Not to mention, it can be easier to talk to someone who knows exactly what you are going through. Whether you like to interact with people online or in person, there are numerous COPD support groups to choose from.
Pulmonary rehab has been hailed as one of the most important steps to successfully manage and treat your COPD. It is a program that puts you together with medical professionals, typically pulmonologists, respiratory therapists, and nurses along with other people who have COPD or another respiratory disease.
Depending on your situation and what your doctor recommends, pulmonary rehab programs typically last anywhere from 4-12 weeks. You will meet 2-3 times per week with the same group and same medical professionals to cover almost every aspect of treating COPD.
While you are in a pulmonary rehab program you will learn aerobic, strength, and breathing exercises and go through entire workouts with supervision from the medical professionals. This will ensure that you are doing your workouts correctly and that you aren’t over exerting yourself to prepare you for life after pulmonary rehab.
On top of exercising, the amount of knowledge you will gain from going to pulmonary rehab is incredible! The medical professionals will work with you to address your concerns, go over things like dieting for COPD and how to spot exacerbation-warning signs, and they will be there to act as a support system.
Along with getting support from the medical professionals running your pulmonary rehab program, you will be able to form new friendships with the other people in your program. As you build these relationships you will grow a new support system full of people you can relate to and know exactly what you’re going through.
The support system you build during your pulmonary rehab shouldn’t disband once you all complete your rehab. It’s a great way to keep each other accountable and you can make plans to do things together like exercising, shopping, or just spending time together to get out of the house.
If you are interested in joining a pulmonary rehab program you can Google “pulmonary rehab programs near me” or visit these links to find a place close to home:
Online Support Groups
Online support groups for COPD are growing quickly and popping up everywhere. From Facebook to online forums you will be sure to find a number of COPD support groups that will benefit you. The great thing about online support groups is that you can access them at home or on the go and at any time of day.
If you’re struggling with side-effects from medications, having a hard time recovering from an exacerbation, or don’t know what to do in certain situations someone from these support groups will be able to offer help or just listen to what you have to say. Depending on the group or forum, there may be a few pulmonologists or respiratory therapists that offer great advice and post very helpful articles.
These groups and forums are a great way to help combat COPD related depression. You get to see how you are not alone in your battle and you will learn new coping strategies. You will see how other people manage their COPD and gain inspiration from them. And as you become more active in the groups you will learn how you can offer help to those struggling with certain aspects of their disease.
It seems like Facebook groups are the most active online support groups for COPD with online forums being the second most active. We recommend joining multiple Facebook groups and checking out a few forums. Here is a list of some of the more active and supportive Facebook groups and online forums:
MyCOPDTeam is THE social network for people with COPD. It's not just a social network, it's a safe haven and judgment-free place where you can get the emotional support you need and practical advice on treatments and therapies. You will also be able to make new friends and find people like you based on things like location, your diagnosis, and age. MyCOPDTeam is free to join and it's a fantastic resource that will benefit you in more ways than you know!
- COPD Navigator
A very open and supportive group to discuss anything related to COPD. The group has at least one experienced respiratory therapist, a certified COPD educator, and over 1500 members for you to connect with.
- COPD- New Treatments and Advice
With just over 1400 members this group is a great place to discuss your COPD treatments with others and get support from those who know what you’re going through. This group states they do not tolerate internet trolls so you are sure to get genuine support from everyone in the group.
- COPD- breathing to live support group.
This group’s focus is to share information and give support to those living with COPD and their caregivers. With over 1100 members, you will be able to ask for advice, help others with their battle against COPD, and share your experiences with COPD to a non-judgmental group.
- COPD Warriors supporting each other
COPD Warriors is a nice balance of seriousness and lightheartedness. You will be sure to get a few laughs every day from this group along with the support and understanding you need to continue your fight against COPD.
- COPD Information and Support
COPD Information and Support is a place where people with COPD, Pulmonary Hypertension, and Alpha-1 cann find and post information about pulmonary diseases. It’s a drama-free zone where you can find companionship from over 1500 people sharing your struggles.
- Breathe Easy: COPD, PF, Pulmonary Hypertension, Pulmonary Wellness For ALL
Breathe Easy is a group run by Dr. Noah Greenspan of the Pulmonary Wellness and Rehabilitation Center. It is by far one of the most active COPD groups on Facebook. You will find some of the most supportive people in this group along with some of the best information shared by Dr. Greenspan himself. Dr. Greenspan also takes a lot of time to go through the group and answer any and all questions that get asked throughout the day.
COPD-Support is an online forum where you can go to learn more about COPD, interact with other people with COPD, talk with COPD caregivers, and get advice with anything you might be struggling with. The forum is free to join and it is pretty active.
- COPD Online
COPD Online is another online forum that you can use to get support, give support, learn more about COPD, and interact with other people who know exactly what you are going through. COPD Online is free to join and the community is very helpful and friendly.
5. Pet Therapy
It may seem unconventional, but owning a pet can help improve your COPD and it can make a significant difference in your fight against depression. If you have ever had a pet you know exactly what kind of joy and happiness they can bring you, no matter how big of a pain in the butt they can be. Animals are amazing companions and studies have shown that having a pet can improve your mood and reduce tension.
Ian Cook, MD, psychiatrist and director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at UCLA says, “Pets offer an unconditional love that can be very helpful to people with depression.” Here is a list of ways a pet can help you fight off depression:
- Unconditional Love- Relationships with other people can get complicated and messy for an infinite number of reasons or for no reason at all. People state their opinions, give unwanted advice, manipulate others, and can be extremely selfish. Pets, well as long as you love them they will love you back. No back talk, no hurt feelings, just unwavering love and happiness from your furry friend.
- Responsibility- This one may seem like a stretch, especially since you have a ton of responsibilities on your plate from battling COPD and depression, but bringing a pet into your life can provide you with a new, positive focus in your life. Taking care of a pet can give you a sense of your own value and importance. Just seeing the way your pet looks at you will bring joy and happiness to your life. And knowing your pet depends on you can give you a boost of motivation each day.
- Activity- Being active is one of the best ways to combat COPD symptoms and depression. Having a pet like a dog that needs to be walked will promote physical activity. Even just playing fetch with your dog or playing with your animal’s favorite toys every day will help you become more active.
- Routine- Having a daily routine can help with your COPD and your depression. You know what you have ahead of you for the day and you know exactly what your next move is going to be. Well animals also have their own natural routine that will help you shape your own routine. This will help you stay on track with your COPD and depression treatments and it will help you organize your day.
- Physical Contact- There have been numerous studies to show that people feel better and are generally happier when they have physical contact with others. Pets can offer something similar! Studies have shown that petting a dog or a cat can lower your heart rate and animals have an ability to be naturally soothing at the right times.
- Improved Health- If you need more evidence that backs the claims about pets improving your health, multiple studies conducted on how pets can improve your health have found that owning a dog can lower your blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, and increase the levels of “feel-good” chemicals in your brain. One study even found that dog owners exercised more often, slept better, and got sick fewer times than those without a dog.
Before you go out and adopt or buy a pet, there are a few things you need to consider. Are you comfortable with animals? Is your depression too severe to take on added responsibilities? Do you suffer from bad allergies? Can you afford a pet? You need to make sure that having a pet is something that will benefit you, not make your situation worse.
6. Vitamin D
In the past vitamin D has been linked to numerous health-benefits ranging from strengthening your bones to lowering your blood pressure. Recently researchers have found that vitamin D may play a role in many other areas of health; including mental health.
While more research is needed, preliminary research has linked low levels of vitamin D to depression. According to a study done in 2013:
- A lack of vitamin D in the blood is linked with being depressed
- A lack of vitamin D in the blood makes it more likely for you to develop depression
- Taking a vitamin D supplement can improve or prevent depression
In 2012, a study done in Norway set out to see whether the symptoms of depression were related to levels of vitamin D in the blood and it also looked to see if taking a vitamin D supplement affected symptoms of depression in people who had low vitamin D levels. The study found that:
- Low levels of vitamin D are linked to symptoms of depression
- Low vitamin D levels may be the result of depression rather than the cause of depression
- Taking a vitamin D supplement had no effect on depression symptoms, but it did increase vitamin D levels in the blood
On the contrary, a 2008 research study from Norway found that people taking large amounts of vitamin D improved their depression symptoms. The 2008 study also found that the patients with more severe depression experienced the biggest effect from taking vitamin D supplements.
Although more research is needed to fully grasp the impact vitamin D can have on depression, it may have a positive effect on you. As an added bonus, there have been studies that show vitamin D can help prevent COPD exacerbations.
The only way to truly know if your vitamin D levels are low is to be tested by your doctor, however, if you notice any of the following symptoms you may want to get tested for vitamin D deficiency:
- Bone Pain
- Muscle Weakness
- Cognitive Impairment
- You aren’t as happy as normal or you have been experiencing the blues consistently
How To Increase Vitamin D Levels
Increasing your vitamin D levels is pretty simple, but you will want to speak with your doctor before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle. Your doctor will be able to recommend a specific amount of vitamin D to combat your low levels and they will advise you on other ways to increase your vitamin D levels.
Here is a list of common ways to increase your vitamin D levels:
- Increase your exposure to sunlight
- Have an ultraviolet lamp/bulb setup in your home
- Increase fatty fish in your diet (omega 3 fatty acids)
- Drink fortified orange juice
- Drink fortified milk
- Eat fortified cereal
- Eat egg yolks
- Take cod liver pills
- Take other vitamin D supplements
Meditation is more than just sitting down, changing your breathing pattern, and doing nothing. It is the act of deeply focusing your mind for a period of time as a method of relaxation to actively train it to increase awareness.
In a study done in 2014 by Madhav Goyal, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor in the Division or General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, Goyal found that meditation provided as much relief from depression symptoms as antidepressants. The study also found no harm ever came from meditation.
Over the course of the study, researchers focused on 47 clinical trials that included 3,515 participants with a variety of mental and physical health issues ranging from depression to cancer. They found that mindfulness meditation showed the most promise and the best results.
Mindfulness meditation is a form of Buddhist self-awareness that promotes precise, non-judgmental attention to the moment at hand. It puts an emphasis on the acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgment and the relaxation of your mind and body. You can learn more about mindfulness meditation and how to practice it here:
- How to Do Mindful Meditation
This webpage details how to practice mindful meditation. It breaks it down into three segments; picking an environment, beginning meditation, and practicing mindfulness techniques. It’s broken down step-by-step and is a great starting point.
- How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation
This post from Psychology Today provides great information on the practice of mindfulness meditation. It dives into how mindfulness meditation is different from other types of meditation, why it works, and how to practice it.
- The Mindfulness Meditation Institute
The Mindfulness Meditation Institute is a massive resource that you can use to become a mindfulness meditation master. This website is complete with multiple meditation guides and it has a well-kept and frequently updated blog that will give you tips on everything from how to beat holiday stress with mindfulness to overcoming the most common meditation obstacles.
There are multiple types of meditation so if mindfulness meditation doesn’t do much for you, look into another type. You will probably see that the relaxation techniques don’t just benefit your mental health, but they can also help improve your COPD. The different breathing exercises incorporated in meditation will help strengthen your diaphragm and the act of meditating may help you come to terms with your diagnosis of COPD.
Bonus Content: COPD Meal Plan
Having a healthy diet is essential to successfully treat and manage COPD, but what about depression? Your diet can have a significant impact on your mental health. You know the saying, "You are what you eat." We teamed up with nutritionist and best-selling author Kellie Hill to create a COPD meal plan that you can download for free! Click here to download your free COPD Meal plan.
One thing you may have noticed at the beginning of this post is that some symptoms of COPD and depression overlap which can make it increasingly difficult for you to determine if you are actually depressed. That is why it is so important for you to stay in-tune with your body and your mind.
If you think you may be depressed, don’t sit around and wait for it to pass. Address the problem right away to treat your depression and start by getting in contact with your doctor. If left untreated, your depression can cause your COPD to worsen and make it harder to recover.
If you have any tips for others struggling to cope with COPD related depression or if you have some tips on how to keep a positive attitude please share them below in the comments!
If you haven't downloaded it already, click the image below to get your free COPD meal plan and see how much a healthy diet can help you!
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- Insomnia with COPD: How to Improve Your Sleep Quality