Anxiety, Depression and Sleeping Problems
For information on Anxiety, Depression and Sleeping Problems, please see the list of topics below.
Anxiety is one of the most common emotional responses to illness, and it’s a natural reaction. Questions like ‘How will I cope?’, ‘What’s going to happen?’, ‘Will I get better?’ and ‘Will the treatment work?’ may go through your mind. Anxious feelings may be present all the time, or they may come and go. They can also vary in how severe and disruptive they are. Anxiety may show as physical symptoms such as:
- A dry mouth
It can be easy to confuse the symptoms of your illness, with the symptoms of anxiety. Being anxious on top of being unwell can also make your symptoms worse.
Dealing with anxiety
When anxiety levels are high, the symptoms can be difficult to control and you may feel that you’re having a ‘panic attack’. Learning controlled breathing and relaxation techniques| can help you to manage these attacks. Your doctor will be able to help you to work out whether your symptoms are related to anxiety, and may prescribe medication to help. Anxiety can also be treated with a sedative drug such as diazepam. Understanding the reason for your symptoms can be reassuring, but if you’re still very anxious, try talking to your nurse or doctor. For some people, seeing a trained counsellor can help. Some organisations offer counselling and psychotherapy. These feelings are very common, so don’t be embarrassed to discuss them or check whether your fears and concerns are justified.
Some people become depressed as a result of being unwell or coping with symptoms. Everyone can feel down or anxious at times, but sometimes these feelings don’t go away and can start to affect your everyday life. Common symptoms of depression include:
- Not being able to enjoy anything
- Feeling low or sad for several days in a row
- A lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of hopelessness, guilt or worthlessness.
Depression often comes on gradually. The first step to feeling better is getting appropriate help. If you or your family think that you may be depressed, discuss this with your GP or nurse. They will be able to tell you about the different treatments that can help.
Counselling or talking therapies can help you to express your emotions and clarify your feelings about what’s happening in your life. Trained counsellors, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists all deal with talking therapies. For some people they can be as effective as antidepressants or sedatives.
There are different types of talking therapy:
Person-centred therapy aims to help you sort out your feelings and find ways of coping with them through discussion with a trained counsellor. It’s often used to help someone cope with recent events they have found difficult. This therapy is widely available.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) aims to help you change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. CBT is available as one-to-one or group therapy. Self-help books and computer programmes are also available.
Psychodynamic (psychoanalytic) psychotherapy deals with immediate problems by encouraging you to look back at your past to try to discover how past events affect the way you are feeling, thinking and behaving now. This tends to be longer-term therapy.
Medicines for depression
Your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant to help lift your mood. Antidepressants are thought to work by affecting certain chemicals within the brain. They work slowly, so you won’t usually notice any improvement in your symptoms for a few weeks. Your doctor may have to try more than one drug to find the one that suits you best.
Many people with who are unwell have sleeping difficulties at some point during their illness. There can be a number of reasons for this, including anxiety and symptoms such as pain and breathlessness. These symptoms can often be treated, so speak to your doctor about them. For example, if you have pain, ask your doctor about long-acting painkillers that will last through the night. Some people may benefit from having a short nap during the day. However, too much sleep during the day can cause problems sleeping at night - try limiting yourself to one or two sleeps each day if you can’t sleep at night. If possible, avoid sleeping in the late afternoon or evening. If you do have difficulty sleeping at night, remember your body will still benefit from lying quietly in bed resting, even if you’re not asleep.
Tips for a better night’s sleep
- Go to bed and get up at about the same time every day. Having a long lie-in after a sleepless night can lead to a disrupted sleep pattern.
- Gentle exercise like walking and keeping your mind occupied with activities like reading, games or puzzles will help you feel naturally tired and ready for sleep.
- Get into a relaxing routine before bed. Try having a warm bath or shower, reading or listening to soothing music. Listening to an audio book or a relaxation exercise on CD, tape or MP3 player can also be helpful.
- Make your bedroom a relaxing place to be in. Create an area that’s dark, quiet and comfortable.
- Avoid large meals and stimulants like caffeine or cigarettes in the late evening. Try having a warm, milky drink before bed. Although a small alcoholic drink can help, too much alcohol can lead to disrupted sleep.
- Some medicines, for example steroids, can cause sleeplessness. Ask your doctor or nurse whether you could take them earlier in the day. They may suggest you take them before 2pm.
- If you find it difficult to fall asleep, or if you wake up during the night and can’t get back to sleep again, get up and go to another room. Do something else, like read or watch TV, until you feel tired again.
- If you find that worries or concerns are keeping you awake, write them down. You can then speak to someone about them later.
Sleeplessness can sometimes be a sign of depression. Talking through your worries and concerns may be helpful. Some people benefit from counselling or relaxation therapy. Sometimes a short course of sleeping pills can help you get back to a regular sleeping pattern, or help you through a particularly difficult time. They usually work by helping you get to sleep, so they’re best taken before bedtime rather than in the middle of the night.