Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is most commonly associated with symptoms like breathing difficulties and fatigue. But over time, a chronic illness like IPF can take a toll on your mental health too.

Depression and anxiety often go unnoticed, and subsequently untreated, in people living with IPF. Fear of stigma may hold you back from discussing symptoms with your doctors.

The fact is that people living with chronic illnesses are more likely to develop depression and anxiety. This is true whether you have a personal history of mental health conditions or not.

If you suspect something isn’t right, talk to your doctor about treating depression and anxiety. Consider the following six tips for coping with mental health issues related to IPF.

1. Recognize the symptoms

It’s normal to feel stressed or sad from time to time, but anxiety and depression are different. You may have depression if you have symptoms that last daily for at least a couple of weeks.

Some of these symptoms include:

  • sadness and emptiness
  • feelings of guilt and hopelessness
  • irritability or anxiousness
  • sudden loss of interest in the activities you used to enjoy
  • extreme fatigue (more so than the fatigue from IPF)
  • sleeping more during the day with possible insomnia at night
  • worsening aches and pains
  • increased or decreased appetite
  • thoughts of death or suicide

Anxiety can occur with or without depression. You might be experiencing anxiety with your IPF if you experience:

  • excessive worriedness
  • restlessness
  • difficulty relaxing and falling asleep
  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • exhaustion from worry and lack of sleep

2. Take time out for self-care

You may have heard the term “self-care” and wondered what it involves. The truth is that it’s exactly what it implies: taking time to take care of yourself. This means investing in routines and activities that benefit both your body and your mind.

Here are some of the options you might integrate into your own self-care routine:

  • a hot bath
  • art therapy
  • massage
  • meditation
  • reading
  • spa treatments
  • tai chi
  • yoga

3. Exercise to improve your mood

Exercise does more than keep your body in shape. It also helps your brain generate serotonin, also known as the “feel-good” hormone. Boosted serotonin levels keep your energy up and improve your mood overall.

Still, it can be difficult to engage in a high-intensity workout if you’re having shortness of breath from IPF. Ask your doctor about the best workouts for your condition. Even mild to moderate activities can make a positive impact on your mental health (not to mention your IPF too).

4. Don’t isolate yourself

With depression or anxiety on top of IPF, it can be difficult to want to interact with others. But social isolation can make mental health symptoms worse by making you feel even more sad, irritable, and worthless.

If you haven’t already, ask your doctor or pulmonary rehabilitation group for a referral to an IPF support group. Being around others who understand exactly what you’re going through can make you feel less alone. These groups can also provide valuable education on the condition.

Another option to consider is talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy. This treatment measure provides an outlet for discussion. You can also learn ways to manage your thoughts and behaviors.

Finally, don’t isolate yourself from your loved ones. You might feel guilty about your condition, and you might even mistake yourself as a “burden.” Remember that your family and friends are there for you through the ups and downs of anxiety and depression.

5. Take medications if you need to

Medications for depression and anxiety can reduce symptoms and help you focus on managing your IPF again.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are prescribed for both depression and anxiety. These antidepressants aren’t habit-forming and can start working relatively quickly. But it can take time to find the right medication and appropriate dosage for you. Be patient and stick with your plan. You should never stop taking these medications “cold turkey,” as this can cause uncomfortable side effects.

Your doctor may also treat depression with serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. Severe anxiety may be treated with antianxiety medications.

Talk to your doctor about your treatment options. Sometimes prescription mental health medications are only taken for a short amount of time until your overall condition improves.

6. Know when to seek emergency care

When treated under the supervision of a medical doctor, depression and anxiety are manageable. But there are times when both conditions warrant emergency medical care. If you or a loved one is expressing urgent thoughts of suicide, call 911. Signs of a panic attack may also warrant a call to your doctor for further evaluation.

The takeaway

Shortness of breath from IPF can cause or worsen anxiety and depression. You may end up isolating yourself because you can’t participate in as many activities as you used to, which will only make you feel worse. Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing stress or sadness that doesn’t go away. Doing so will not only provide relief from depression or anxiety, but also help you cope with IPF.