Mental illness represents a massive health burden in the United States. According to Hopkins Medicine, about 26% of people over the age of 18 live with a mental illness. However, this doesn’t even factor in that many people suffer from more than one mental health disorder. For example, individuals with a high amount of anxiety are more likely to experience bouts of depression as a result. This can lead to problems that are significantly more difficult to solve than a simple “change of mindset.”
When it comes to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other progressive diseases, the prevalence of mental health issues is high. A study published in the European Respiratory Journal found that COPD patients were 85% more likely to experience anxiety disorders when compared to healthy control subjects. And it goes without saying that the more COPD progresses, the more likely it is to contribute to mental health problems as well.
In this blog post, we’re going to focus on one method of improving your mental health: living in the moment. While this subject may seem like a cliché in some ways, there’s actually a lot of clinical evidence to suggest that it can significantly improve your mental well-being even if it doesn’t outright solve them. Read on to learn more and be sure to bookmark this page or share it with anyone who may benefit from it.
What Does it Mean to “Live in the Moment”?
Simply put, living in the moment means focusing on the here and now. It means being fully present and involved in what you’re doing at the current point in time rather than focusing on the past or the future. This is an important concept to grasp if you want to live a healthy and fulfilling life. People who are able to train themselves to live in the moment find that they are significantly more productive, they build better and more meaningful relationships, and they’re less likely to encounter mental or emotional roadblocks.
Living in the moment, however, doesn’t necessarily mean completely tuning out the future or forgetting about the past. If you want to make meaningful decisions now, you need to learn from the past and value your future. But what you shouldn’t do is be overanalytical and dwell on thoughts or feelings, because this will only lead to more anxiety and more difficulty facing the challenges that are currently relevant in your life.
Why Do COPD Patients Struggle With Living in the Moment?
Receiving a diagnosis for any chronic illness can be a difficult thing to process and accept. Regardless of how much of an optimist someone is, everyone will experience some degree of distress after experiencing an event like this. Unfortunately, receiving a diagnosis for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can be even more difficult. While COPD is one of the most preventable chronic illnesses in the world, there are risk factors that are unavoidable such as air pollution and genetic factors like alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.
Despite these facts, many COPD patients still fall into the mindset that their illness could have been prevented if they had only made different lifestyle choices. Once this happens, it becomes very difficult to live in the moment without feeling guilty about the past or worried about the future. And while COPD can’t be cured, it’s important to remember that it’s a very treatable disease meaning that if you’re careful about your lifestyle choices in the here and now, you can significantly slow the progression of your disease.
Keep Your Mind Busy
One of the best things you can do for yourself if you want to stop stressing about the past or the future is to keep your mind busy. Probably one of the most common and effective ways of doing this is by reading. Whether you’ve been a life-long reader or you’ve never picked up a book in your life, this is the perfect way to train your mind to focus on the present. The subject of the book doesn’t matter too much, just as long as it’s a topic that interests you and doesn’t cause you to dwell on negative or unproductive thoughts.
If reading isn’t really your thing, you might consider giving games or puzzles a try. Many newspapers and magazines have crossword puzzles or sudoku games in them or you can find them online and simply print them off. If you have a smartphone, you can download word games from the app store and many of them are free of charge. However, be aware that spending too much time with electronics on a daily basis can increase your stress levels, so it’s important to take a break from time to time.
Last but certainly not least, you can keep your mind busy by completing simple tasks around the home like folding laundry, organizing, or doing dishes. According to the BBC, not only does the act of cleaning or doing menial tasks improve your mindset and provide you with a bit of exercise, but you’ll also boost your mood when you can look back on the work you’ve accomplished, no matter how small of a task it was.
Create a List of Things That are Important to You
The second strategy you can try to improve your mindset is to create a list of five or ten things that are important to you. This list can include anything like family, friends, or even short-term or life-long goals that you want to keep top of mind. But the important thing to remember is that you actually need to create a physical list that’s either written or typed up. This is a crucial detail because studies have shown that doing so will increase the likelihood that you will remember it. If you simply think about these things, they will likely get drowned out by any negative thoughts you’re experiencing.
If you want to take this one step further, you can even make copies of your list and post them around your home as a reminder. Put them in places that you frequent throughout the day such as your bedroom, kitchen, and living room. This way, no matter if your mind starts to wander, you will always be reminded of the things that are important to you and the things that you’re working towards.
Keep Track of Your Progress
Another thing you can do is keep track of your COPD treatment progress. Most people with COPD understand the importance of supplemental oxygen therapy, a well-balanced diet, and pulmonary rehabilitation, but not all people keep records of their progress. This is unfortunate because it’s much easier to change your lifestyle for the better if you have tangible evidence of its benefits. Otherwise, you might be left to question whether it’s helping or not and that your energy is better spent elsewhere.
There are two different factors to consider when it comes to the effectiveness of your lungs: lung function and lung capacity. Lung function is how effective the body is at using the oxygen it receives. Lung capacity is the ability of the lungs to take in air and remove carbon dioxide-rich air quickly. Lung capacity is something that can be improved whereas lung function cannot. Lung capacity can be tested at home using a device called a spirometer. Everyone should have one of these so that they can keep track of their progress.
Another way to keep track of your progress is to make a note of how you’re feeling throughout the day. Be sure to write the date next to your note so that you can look back on it over time to see what was working and wasn’t working. Over time, you’ll start to have a better idea of what kinds of things improve your lung health and what things don’t. It could also significantly boost your mental health because you’ll start to see that your lifestyle choices have a huge impact on how good or bad you feel on any given day.
Consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psycho-social intervention that’s designed to correct negative thoughts and behaviors. This type of treatment for mental illness became popular in the 1990s and it’s been effective for many people facing a wide range of issues. It’s often recommended for people with COPD who find themselves in a negative mental feedback loop and for people who are struggling to make the changes they need to treat their disease.
CBT sessions usually begin with identifying the problem. It’s important to be able to define exactly what the issue is if you want to be able to solve it. Once that’s done, your therapist will likely change the focus to your thoughts and feelings towards that problem. This is where most people begin to realize that they have an inaccurate or misguided vision of the problem they’re facing. Finally, your therapist will take steps to reverse negative or inaccurate thinking and replace them with ones that are constructive.
Meditation is a technique that’s been used for thousands of years. And while it’s largely used in a religious or spiritual context, it can also be a helpful tool for improving your mental health and peace of mind. There are many different types of meditation but by far the most popular one among COPD patients is Tai Chi. This is often referred to as “moving meditation” because rather than sitting on the ground motionless, you’ll be up on your feet moving. It’s popular among COPD patients because it enables them to get exercise while they work on their mental health.
One of the greatest parts about Tai Chi is that you don’t need an instructor to do it. You can either practice it in the safety of your own home or you can practice it in a park or some other quiet and safe area. As for learning how it’s done, we’ve put together a great guide to teach you the ins and outs as well as the many benefits it offers. Be sure to check it out here.
Quit Smoking if You Haven’t Already
Smoking cessation is not only the most important thing you can do for your physical health and to treat COPD, but it’s also one of the most important things you can do for your mental health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 44% of all cigarettes are smoked by people with a mental illness or substance abuse disorder. This is because there is a sort of circular loop that smoking causes.
Essentially, whenever you inhale cigarette smoke it triggers the release of dopamine in the brain. This is the main chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. This isn’t a temporary effect, however. Over time, smoking completely rewires the brain to make “smoking” the new normal. In other words, you need to be smoking cigarettes throughout the day just to feel normal. If you don’t, you’ll begin to feel intense withdrawals and cravings which can lead to a lot of emotional distress.
The effects of cigarettes on your physical health are even grimmer and can also impact your ability to live in the moment. Smoking inflames your lungs causing difficulty breathing, chronic cough, and impairs your immune system meaning you’re more likely to get sick. The result is more time spent at home, bedridden, and unable to break free from a sedentary lifestyle. Many COPD patients have reported that continuing to smoke with their disease has hampered their ability to pursue their passions and spend time with loved ones, all of which takes you away from living in the moment.
Many COPD patients fall into the mindset that the damage has already been done and that smoking cessation won’t improve their condition any, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Many people with COPD and chronic respiratory disease, in general, have been able to live an active lifestyle regardless of what stage of the disease they’re in. While the underlying lung damage will still be there, improving your diet, exercise routine, and dropping the cigarettes will undeniably improve your situation.
Aside from halting lung damage, smoking cessation will lead to immediate improvements in your body’s circulation. This term refers to your body’s ability to circulate blood throughout the body to different organs and tissues. Good circulation plays a very important role in your systemic health by preventing illnesses like heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, and even eases the burden on your lungs and heart.
Another immediate effect you’ll see is improvements to your energy levels and mood. Because smoking puts such a strain on your lungs, heart, and vascular system, your body won’t feel so sluggish all the time. Assuming you’re getting enough sleep, you’ll start to notice your energy levels going back to normal and you’ll have a newfound positive mindset as a result. Smoking cessation has also been positively associated with a decrease in mood swings. All-in-all, this will provide you with the bandwidth that you need in order to live in the moment.
Try New Things
Lastly, you need to be willing to try new things if you’re not noticing an improvement in your mental health. Everyone experiences COPD differently and because of that, everyone will experience different mental and emotional roadblocks as they learn to adjust their lifestyle. Another thing to consider is that it takes time to make these adjustments, so don’t expect them to happen overnight. Ultimately, it’s a good idea to be open with your doctor about what your concerns are because he/she will be able to adjust your treatment plan accordingly or direct you to a psychologist who can help you with the mental and emotional aspects of the disease.
Mental health is a topic that is very under-discussed when it affects people with chronic illnesses. They not only hold people back from managing their disease effectively, but they can also contribute to peoples’ dissatisfaction with their lives. While it’s far from an all-in-one solution, learning how to live in the moment and take things day-by-day is an invaluable skill. However, everyone is different, so that are many different strategies you should try and see which one works for you.
In this post, we outlined seven different strategies you can use to practice living in the moment. Aside from these, you should be following the treatment plan that you made with the help of your doctor. Doing so will ensure that you keep your symptoms in check, reduce chronic pain as much as possible, and prevent flare-ups or exacerbations which can put you in the hospital. As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. Also, feel free to share this article with a friend or loved one with COPD.