Looking after your mental health and well-being

Find out why living with a long-term lung condition can affect your mental health, how your healthcare team can support you, and what you can do to improve your emotional well-being.

It’s quite common for people with long-term conditions, including lung conditions, to have anxiety and depression. For many people, living with a lung condition affects their quality of life.

You can have physical symptoms, like getting out of breath and feeling tired. But living with a long-term health condition can also affect your mental health and your ability to cope with daily life. 

Living with a lung condition can have mental and emotional challenges, including: 

  • living in fear of a flare-up or an asthma attack or of not being able to breathe 
  • feeling frustrated when employers, family, or friends don’t understand your condition, or when you feel you’re not always supported or listened to by healthcare professionals 
  • worrying about how your lung condition is affecting family, partners, friends, and carers, and feeling unhappy about needing regular treatment and support from others 
  • feeling depressed because it’s hard to do things due to your symptoms 
  • feeling anxious about finances and work, or about the future, and what will happen if your lung condition gets worse 
  • dealing with loneliness, because your symptoms mean you miss out on socialising, or because other people don’t understand what you’re going through 
  • feeling stressed and anxious after spending time in hospital, particularly if time in intensive care has resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder

A lack of sleep can affect how you feel too. Often people with lung conditions find sleeping difficult, because of symptoms keeping them awake at night. This could be because of other related conditions like obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). 

Your mood can also be affected by side effects from your medicines. These side effects can include mood swings. 

An Asthma + Lung UK survey of 3000 people who had taken oral steroids for their asthma showed that 33% reported mental health conditions as a side effect. Read more in our Do No Harm report

Low oxygen levels

For some people with lung conditions, low mood can be a sign that their oxygen levels are low.  

Knowing the early signs can help you to take action and get support quickly.

How your healthcare team can support you

Your healthcare team can support you to manage your lung condition well. Once you’re managing your condition well this may help improve your low mood. They can also support you with your mental and emotional health directly.

It’s important to ask for help because stress, anxiety, or depression can sometimes affect all areas of your daily life, including how you manage your lung condition. 

If you’re being treated in a specialist centre or clinic you should have access to a team of different specialists including specialists to help you with your emotional well-being, as well as with common mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. 

  • Ask your GP or specialist team about counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or treatments for depression.
  • Talk about the medicines you’re taking, and whether side effects could be affecting your mood, your confidence, or your self-esteem. 
  • Keep a symptoms diary. Take it to your appointments to help your healthcare team see any patterns. Together you can talk about the things that are making your lung condition worse, whether that’s side effects, or the stress and anxiety of living with a long-term condition.

Find out more about the support available, including mental health charities that you can call.
You can also get online mental health support specifically for people living with a long-term health condition

Call 999 or go straight to A&E if:

you’re having thoughts about harming yourself or taking your own life.

Advice to improve your emotional well-being

Alongside support from your GP or specialist team, there are lots of things you can do to support your emotional well-being.

Breathing exercises

Depending on your lung condition, there are different breathing exercises that help with your breathing and can also help to calm you down if you’re feeling anxious or stressed. A physiotherapist or respiratory nurse can explain about the best techniques for you, which could include:

When you’re doing breathing exercises, try to stay calm and relaxed, and sit somewhere comfortable that supports your back. 

Mindfulness 

Mindfulness helps you focus on what is happening to you right now. It usually involves meditation and breathing exercises. It could help you to feel less anxious.  

There’s evidence that mindfulness can improve the health and well-being of people with long-term conditions.  

You can try out mindfulness by joining a group, finding one-to-one help, using an online course or app, or finding a self-help book. Read more about how mindfulness can help your mental well-being on the NHS website.

Relaxation techniques

Relaxation involves being quiet, relaxing the muscles in your body, and breathing slowly and deeply.  
You can try relaxation techniques on your own, or you could join a relaxation or yoga class. There are also a lot of books and apps that could help you. 

Complementary therapies can help you relax

Complementary therapies like massage and yoga can help reduce stress and anxiety.

Find out more about complementary therapies and how to use them safely.

Keep as fit and active as you can

Staying active is one of the most helpful ways to boost your mood. Physical activity has been shown to help with low mood and depression. 

Sometimes people living with a lung condition feel they need to avoid too much activity, to avoid feeling breathless. But not being active can make your breathlessness worse in the long term.  

Making yourself moderately breathless by being active is good for your lungs and won’t harm you. In fact, keeping active strengthens your muscles and can improve your breathing and general health. 

As well as improving your lung symptoms, keeping active could help you to feel less anxious. Even a gentle walk or a chair Zumba session could improve your mood.

You can also keep active by going on a pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) course which has been shown to improve mental well-being as well as fitness.  

"Exercising, like jogging, walking, group exercise activities, or gym workouts, particularly with a friend, provides a distraction, to avoid always focusing on what’s causing you stress." — Doug, living with asthma

Find out more about keeping active when you have a lung condition.

Download our exercise handbook with activities you can do at home and ways to track your progress.

Eat and drink healthily

Eating a balanced diet is important for your mental health. In fact, eating healthy foods can help you avoid a low mood.

  • Some people find that cutting out caffeine helps them to feel less anxious. Caffeine gives you a burst of energy when you first drink it. But drinks that have caffeine in them, like tea, coffee, and some fizzy drinks, can cause your heart to beat faster or make you feel shaky later. 
  • Foods high in sugar can also add to feelings of anxiety.
  • Drinking alcohol can affect your mental health. It can make depression symptoms worse. If you can drink alcohol less, or avoid it altogether, you should notice fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. If you have asthma, alcohol can be an asthma trigger for some people.

The charity Mind have more information about which food and drink can affect your mood

Read more about eating well for healthier lungs.

Connect with others

Andy
Living with a rare interstitial lung disease

I’d recommend talking to someone about how you’re feeling. I spoke to people with lung conditions on the online forum, but you could also go along to an Asthma + Lung UK support group. 

You could talk to a friend or a member of your family too – they don’t need to know all about your lung condition. The important thing is that you talk to someone, especially when you’re down.

Avoid smoking and drugs 

Some people may want to smoke more when they’re stressed or anxious because they think smoking calms them down. In fact, smoking can make feelings of anxiety worse. The NHS recommends quitting smoking to help your mental health.

Most recreational drugs affect your mood, sometimes causing feelings of anxiety or depression. They can also trigger symptoms if you have asthma.

Try a new hobby or learn something new

Trying a new hobby, or learning something new, can boost your mood. It can give you something positive to focus on and take your mind off negative things you might be feeling. It can also be a great way to meet new people. 

A lot of people with lung conditions find that music helps them manage their physical and mental health. 

Why not try our music groups? 

Spend time outside

Spending time outside has been shown to improve your physical and mental well-being. It can help improve your mood and reduce feelings of stress.  
And studies suggest that being around nature is good for your breathing. Try visiting your local park, or getting out in the garden if you have one. 

Spending time outside has been found to help with mental health problems, including depression. Being outside in natural light can also be helpful if you experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Read more about how nature benefits our mental health on the Mind website.

Get support

Call our Helpline for support with your condition. Get advice on your medicines, symptoms or travelling with a lung condition, or just call us to say hello.

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