Mental health and severe asthma

Help and support for when severe asthma causes leads to anxiety and or depression

Health advice > Severe asthma > Making life easier with severe asthma

Many people with severe asthma find that the condition has an impact on almost every aspect of their lives. Managing and living with severe asthma can create a big burden for people with severe asthma, often causing mental health issues like low mood, anxiety and depression.

Anxiety

Anxiety is what we feel when we are afraid or worried. It is normal for people to feel anxious from time to time, but it usually goes away once the situation that’s causing it is over.

But for some people it can be more of a problem, or it can affect the way you live your life. For example, feelings of anxiety can be very strong or last a long time, or anxiety can cause changes in behaviour like avoiding things that cause anxiety.

People with severe asthma also worry about anxiety itself as a trigger for their symptoms, because being anxious can make your heart race and make you feel short of breath.

Below are some ways you can manage feelings of anxiety. But if your anxiety is affecting your daily life or causing you distress, you could talk to your GP or Asthma nurse and get support.

Challenge anxious thoughts

Tackling unhelpful thoughts is one of the best things we can do to feel less anxious. Learning to recognise when you are having negative thoughts helps you stop and think about them. Is what you’re thinking really true? Is there evidence to support what you’re thinking? Can you think about it in a positive way? This is sometimes called ‘reframing’.

Here are some of the ways you can ‘reframe’ what you are thinking:

IF YOU THINK: “There’s too much information about severe asthma for me to take in.”

TRY THIS: “There is a lot of information but I don’t need to know it all at once. I only need to understand what I need right now. If I don’t understand anything I can always ask my asthma nurse or GP.

IF YOU THINK: “I’m scared I will have lots of asthma attacks.”

TRY THIS: “I can cut the risk of asthma attacks by knowing my triggers and taking my medicines as prescribed. I will feel confident and safe when I know what to do if my asthma symptoms are getting worse or if I’m having an asthma attack – and my action plan tells me all those things.”

IF YOU THINK: “It annoys me that other people don’t understand what severe asthma is like.”

TRY THIS: “I’m going to help other people understand what it’s like to have severe asthma.”

Try writing down you own negative thoughts that keep popping up and your positive answer to them.

Depression

Depression is more than feeling unhappy or fed up for a few days. Most people go through periods of feeling down, but when you're depressed you feel persistently sad for weeks or months, rather than just a few days. You can have mild depression where you feel low, or quite severe depression where you get very upset or feel life isn’t worth living.

If you are feeling depressed tell your healthcare team and they can work with you to give you support and treatment to get back to feeling better.

The mental health charity MIND also has a helpline and you can talk to the Samaritans on 116 123 for free anytime of the day or night.

Severe asthma can cause difficult feelings. People with severe asthma often feel they want more support and experience strong fears about symptoms, such as breathing difficulties and asthma attacks. They can experience anxiety about the future and the possible side effects of steroids can include low mood, if they are being taken in the long term.

Self care

There are things you can do that will help you to manage low mood and depression, and there is advice available to help you.

Recognise your low mood

In the same way that people with severe asthma need to recognise their triggers, try to notice when you are starting to feel low and do something to try and lift your mood. Continuing to feel low over time can develop into a more serious depression. The side effects of high dose steroids can also lead to low mood, so it is a good idea to try and reduce those feelings when you can.

Talk to someone you trust

If you are feeling down, talk to someone about your feelings. Sometimes people find just sharing their feelings can lift their spirits and they can feel better. If you feel you can’t talk to someone you know then you could call a helpline or use an online forum. Asthma UK has a helpline, the details are at the bottom of every page, and a forum on Health Unlocked.

Join a group with similar experiences

Talking to people who have severe asthma and similar experiences to you can help you share your feelings and feel more understood. Asthma UK has a forum for people with asthma, but you could also create your own WhatsApp group with people you know with severe asthma.

Volunteering

People who get involved with volunteering have also shown that the experience has helped with lifting mood, improving social life and feeling better about yourself. Volunteering can be flexible so that you do as much or as little as you are able and there are often things you can do from home.

Have a daily routine

When you start feeling down it can become hard some days to even get up and get dressed. But try not to let the little things slip and keep looking after yourself. Have a morning and an evening routine, keep having regular meals and try to keep up with the washing and cleaning. Having a simple routine will help you take care of yourself when you are feeling down.

Eat well

Cooking for yourself when you are feeling down can difficult, but if you make even simple nutritious meals, this will help keep you healthy and can help your mood too. If you miss meals or eat too much sugar or processed foods, it can make your blood sugar levels rise and fall quickly. This can make you tired, irritable and depressed. If you have Type 2 Diabetes it is also really important you keep your blood sugar steady. Choosing foods that slowly release energy such as wholemeal bread, oats, rice and pasta and eating regularly through the day will help to keep you blood sugar steady.

These tips are from MIND:

  • Eating breakfast gets the day off to a good start.
  • Instead of eating a large lunch and dinner, try eating smaller portions spaced out more regularly throughout the day.
  • Avoid foods which make your blood sugar rise and fall rapidly, such as sweets, biscuits, sugary drinks, and alcohol.

Healthy eating and severe asthma

Try to keep active

Staying active can be one of the most helpful ways you can help boost your mood. Physical activity has been shown to help tackle depression. Other ways of being active also help. It could be a sport, walking or crafting. Think about taking up something new, such as learning a language, a musical instrument or how to draw.

Learning something new or even trying a new food can take your mind away from your anxieties and ways of thinking that can bring you down.

Keeping active when you have severe asthma

Try mindfulness

Mindfulness is way of bringing your mind into the present moment and paying attention to your own thoughts, your body and your surroundings. It can help people enjoy life more and understand their thoughts and feelings, leading to better mental health.

Keep a diary

Studies have shown that keeping a diary – even for a short time – can help with low mood and anxiety. You don’t have to do it every day, but keeping track of changes in your mood will help you notice which things make you feel better or worse. Plus, you might find you are having more good days than you think.

Spend time in nature

Spending time outdoors in natural surroundings has been found to help with depression and anxiety. Gardening and walking in a group are easy ways to enjoy the natural world.

More information and help for anxiety and depression

MIND - Mental health support and advice online and a phoneline.

Every Mind Matters NHS – Help for a range of mental health issues.

NHS – Mindfulness Information on how to practise mindfulness.

Samaritans  You can talk to them at any time and however you are feeling.

Anna Freud  National Centre for Children and Families This page has 85 ideas of ways you can increase your emotional wellbeing.

Mental Health Foundation A range of content to help you look after your mental health.

Anxiety UK Information on how to deal with anxiety.

Reach Volunteering Opportunities in your area.

Walking for Health Information about local free group walks.

 Last updated March March 2020

Next review due March 2022