COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a group of progressive lung diseases that affect millions of people across the United States. Cases range in severity, and many treatments are available to help with symptom management. Coping with the diagnosis can be difficult, though, so disorders like anxiety and depression are much more common in seniors with COPD than in the general population.
If you have COPD, taking care of your mental health is essential. You might be more vulnerable to developing mental health issues, and these conditions may make it harder to manage your COPD. Understanding the link between COPD and mental health can help you stay aware of your own emotional wellness, which will improve your overall quality of life.
The Psychological Effects of COPD
A COPD diagnosis can lead to a variety of mental health concerns. The following are some of the most common psychological impacts of COPD:
Depression is one of the most common comorbidities for people with COPD. About 40 percent of COPD sufferers also struggle with depression. There are a number of reasons why depression may be so common for people with this condition. COPD is a serious and progressive illness, and coping with the disease can be difficult. A COPD diagnosis can drastically change your outlook on life, and it can make you feel sad, angry, or hopeless.
Just like you go through the stages of grief when a loved one passes away, you go through a grieving period when you face a major health diagnosis. You have to mourn your health and reimagine your life with the condition. Although it is absolutely possible to live a happy, meaningful, and peaceful life with COPD, accepting and adjusting to the illness is a big transition. Symptoms of depression are common as people get used to their new normal.
Social isolation might be another contributor to depression. COPD may limit your ability to be active, making it harder to get out of the house and see your family and friends. If you can’t be as socially active as you’d like, the loneliness can start to take a toll on your emotional well-being.
Anxiety is almost as common in people with COPD as depression. It’s estimated that clinical anxiety affects about 36 percent of COPD patients. Any physical health problem can cause anxiety as learning to manage a chronic disease is extremely stressful. You might feel anxious about your future health, especially because COPD is progressive. Scheduling doctor appointments, remembering your medications, and trying your best to live a healthy lifestyle can feel overwhelming, too.
When you’re diagnosed with COPD, you might feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Managing the illness takes a lot of work, and anxiety disorders can develop when you’re constantly fearful or worried. Anxiety is also common among the loved ones of people with COPD, especially those who are primary caretakers for the ill person.
Panic disorder, which is marked by recurring panic attacks, is common among COPD sufferers, too. Panic attacks are bouts of intense fear and anxiety that are incredibly difficult to cope with in the moment. They can cause a number of physical symptoms, including racing heart rate, rapid breathing, and lightheadedness.
Unfortunately, many seniors with COPD struggle with feelings of guilt after their diagnosis. Some people blame themselves for developing the disease due to smoking or other lifestyle factors. They may think back on their choices and habits earlier in life and feel regretful or wonder what would have happened if they had a different lifestyle.
Guilt can be a particularly painful emotion because the anger or frustration is directed inward toward yourself. You might experience negative self-talk, low self-esteem, or other uncomfortable feelings. No one should feel guilty for their health diagnosis, though. Regardless of your lifestyle decisions, you don’t deserve to be ill, and feeling guilty will only make it more difficult to fight the condition.
The Importance of Good Mental Health for People With COPD
Your physical health affects your mental health, and your mental health affects your physical health. All older adults should do their best to maintain their mental and emotional well-being. However, this is especially important for people with COPD. Research shows that poor mental health leads to longer hospital stays, shorter life expectancy, and worse health outcomes overall.
Following a healthy lifestyle and abiding by your treatment regimen can help reduce your symptoms and extend your lifespan. When you’re struggling with anxiety and depression, though, it can be difficult to find the motivation to manage your COPD. If you don’t even have the energy to get out of bed, habits like exercising, cooking healthy meals, and taking your medications on time can feel impossible.
Maintaining good mental health when you have COPD can also improve your outlook on the diagnosis, which will help you stay motivated to take care of yourself. Anxiety and depression often cause feelings of fear and hopelessness. If you believe that you are doomed to a life of health struggles, forming healthy habits and keeping up with your treatments might seem meaningless. You can manage the symptoms of COPD and significantly delay the progression of the disease with the right care, though. By addressing your anxiety and depression, you equip yourself mentally and emotionally with the resilience you need to stay well.
Coping With COPD
If you have COPD and are experiencing mental health symptoms, you’re not alone. Anxiety and depression are so common among people with COPD, but support is available. Here are some strategies and resources you can explore to maintain or improve your mental health while living with COPD:
Be aware of your triggers.
Anxiety and depression can both be triggered by specific environments, people, or situations. It’s not always clear what causes your mental health symptoms to flare up. However, if you notice that you often feel worse after going certain places or interacting with certain people, it may be best to avoid those triggers. You have to focus on yourself and your own health, and surrounding yourself with positive and supportive influences will be helpful.
Take small self-care steps.
Both COPD and mental health disorders can make it difficult to engage in self-care. When you don’t feel well physically or mentally, maintaining a healthy lifestyle may feel impossible. Instead of pressuring yourself to live the perfect life during a mental health flare-up, focus on small and attainable steps that will improve your well-being. For example, you might not have the energy to clean your entire house, but you could wash the dishes in the sink.
Attend a support group.
A support group for people with COPD or other chronic health problems can be a valuable resource. Anxiety and depression feel isolating, but there are many other people with COPD who can relate to your experiences. Confiding in and listening to others who understand your struggles can help you feel less alone.
Work with a counselor.
Therapy is an excellent option to learn how to manage anxiety and depression. Coping with COPD is difficult, and you might not feel comfortable talking to a friend or family member about your emotions. Your therapy session is confidential, though, and you don’t have to worry about judgment or criticism from your therapist. They’re here to support you and help you discover the best strategies for overcoming your mental health symptoms.
You have the ability to make the most out of life despite your COPD diagnosis. Blue Moon Senior Counseling provides therapy services for older adults with chronic illnesses, depression, anxiety, and other concerns. Contact us today to get in touch with a licensed therapist in your area.