Living with a serious disease like COPD can be scary, stressful, and sometimes even overwhelming. Just the feeling of shortness of breath, the main symptom of COPD, can be a very frightening sensation.
Feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and even depressed is a natural and, to an extent, even a healthy reaction to getting diagnosed with a chronic disease. However, you shouldn't let these negative feelings control your life.
If you don't take steps to manage your anxiety and fears they can end up taking a huge toll on your emotional and physical health. It's okay to feel anxious and depressed sometimes, but it's also important to learn to manage and minimize your stress.
In this article we'll help you better understand the effects of chronic anxiety and how to manage it while living with COPD. We'll show you a variety of effective relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, and lifestyle changes you can use to help you navigate the difficult emotional aspects of COPD.
Understanding The Emotional Impact of COPD
Everyone experiences feelings of depression and anxiety from time to time. It happens as a natural reaction to unfortunate events and the troubles of everyday life.
However, nothing can truly prepare you for the emotional effects of getting diagnosed with a disease like COPD. Negative emotions like fear, anxiety, worry, and guilt can easily get out of hand if you don't learn how to manage them in healthy ways.
Here are some common emotional reactions people experience after getting diagnosed with COPD:
- Anxiety and panic
- Fear and worry
- Guilt and remorse
- Feeling loss of control
As you can see, living with a chronic disease can be an immense emotional challenge. The good news is that it often gets better after you have time to adjust and get used to your treatment plan.
It is normal to feel a great deal of fear, stress, and guilt at first, but you can take back control over your physical and mental health by giving yourself time to adjust and make the life changes necessary to stay healthy. You will also find your disease much easier to manage if you seek support from friends and family and practice healthy coping mechanisms and relaxation techniques.
If you are able to manage the emotional aspects of your disease, it will become much easier to manage your symptoms, live a healthy lifestyle, and follow your treatment plan. That's why it's so important for people with COPD to learn how to manage negative emotions and practice habits that foster a positive mindset.
In the following sections we'll show you a variety of tips and techniques to help you feel better and manage the difficult emotional aspects of COPD. But first, we'll discuss how to recognize the signs of anxiety and depression and how to break out of negative thought cycles related to COPD.
Anxiety is often associated with the “fight or flight” response, an instinctual reaction that all humans experience when confronted with danger. In many cases anxiety actually serves a practical purpose; it helps prepare us to recognize and respond to real threats.
However, anxiety becomes a problem when it happens too often and won't go away. This happens when we feel anxiety in response to things that are not real, immediate threats, like worrying over an argument or feeling anxious about the future.
Since there's no solution or easy “off” switch when you worry about these types of things, sometimes the anxiety just doesn't go away. It's easy to get caught in negative thought loops where you worry about the same things over and over again when there's no actual purpose or use for dwelling on those worries all.
It's common to feel anxiety in response to thoughts, fears, and situations that are out of your control, especially when you suffer from a chronic health condition like COPD. It's important to be able to recognize these feelings of anxiety, because when you know they're there, you can actually do something about it.
Here are some of the immediate physical effects of anxiety you should learn to recognize:
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Paleness or flushing
- Stiff, tensed muscles
- Twitching or trembling
- A tight feeling in your throat
- Dry throat
Anxiety can also have less obvious physical effects in the short term that can affect your COPD:
- Re-distribution of fluids throughout your body (and your lungs, which can affect breathing)
- Increased blood sugar (because it triggers extra glucose production in the liver)
- Increased blood flow throughout your body
As you can see, all of these different anxiety symptoms can affect your breathing and your COPD. Anxiety affects your heart rate, breathing rate, water distribution, and breathing muscles, all of which affect your respiratory system and together can make your COPD symptoms even worse.
If left untreated, chronic anxiety can even cause more serious health complications that are particularly dangerous for people who have COPD. Long-term anxiety can suppress your immune system, affect your short-term memory, cause problems with digestion, and even increase your risk for premature heart disease.
Breaking Out of The Negative Feedback Cycle of Anxiety
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Because the physical effects of anxiety often mimic or exacerbate symptoms of COPD, bouts of acute anxiety can quickly spiral out of control. You might start out feeling a little bit stressed out, but when the anxiety symptoms kick in it can be difficult to stay calm and control your breathing.
The cycle happens like this:
- You start to feel stress or anxiety
- The anxiety makes your throat tighten and increases your breathing rate, making you feel short of breath.
- Feeling short of breath inspires even more fear and anxiety, causing your heart to race even faster.
- Your increased heart rate and muscle tension makes it even more difficult to breathe, which inspires more anxiety... and the cycle continues on.
When you get stuck in this feedback loop, it can be difficult to calm down enough to pull yourself out of it. It becomes easy to confuse symptoms of anxiety with symptoms of COPD, and you can't manage your anxiety if you don't realize that it is what's causing your physical symptoms.
In these situations, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques are the most effective ways to bring your anxiety and physical symptoms back under control. However, the best solution is to learn how to recognize the early signs of anxiety so you can get a handle on it before the negative cycle starts.
The Negative Feedback Cycle of Depression
Feeling depressed can also start a negative feedback loop that can be detrimental to your health. This happens when depression snuffs out your energy and motivation, leading to habits and behaviors that continue to make your depression, and your COPD, worse.
Here are some of the common symptoms of depression:
- Decreased energy and fatigue
- Feelings of sadness, anxiety, and emptiness
- Feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, or guilt
- Pessimism, cynicism, and hopelessness
- Restlessness and irritability
- Loss of interest in hobbies, exercise, and other activities
- Changes in eating habits (increased or decreased appetite)
- Increase in aches and pains, headaches, and other physical ailments
- Reduced ability to focus and concentrate
The negative feedback loop of depression begins with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that cause you to give up on healthy habits and treatment goals. When you're depressed, you're likely to give up and avoid activities when you feel breathlessness or other symptoms of COPD, which only leads to even worse symptoms and fuels further depression.
It's important to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of depression so you can address it and manage it if it occurs. It's also important to recognize the unhealthy habits that start the negative feedback loop of depression so you can take care of it before it spirals too far and takes a permanent toll on your health.
Here's what the negative feedback loop of depression looks like:
- You feel depressed and hopeless because of your disease, so you choose to stay inside and do nothing instead of pursuing hobbies and other activities. You might have difficulty getting out of bed and motivating yourself to continue healthy habits like exercising and cooking healthy meals.
- As a result of being less active, your symptoms get worse and your disease may progress even further. You feel more breathless and fatigued and have even less energy to exercise and do other activities.
- This leads to even more anxiety and depression, which makes you feel even less motivated and less capable of managing your health. As your physical condition declines, it becomes more and more difficult to stay active and causes even more emotional distress.
- This leads to even more depression, more time spent sedentary, and more physical symptoms. If the cycle isn't interrupted, it can make your COPD symptoms irreversibly worse and cause permanent physical decline.
Anxiety and Depression Can Have Long-Term Effects on Your Health
A certain amount of anxiety is healthy, and can even motivate us to take positive actions and make healthy choices. But when anxiety or depression is prolonged, it can have serious negative effects on your body.
Here are some of the long-term effects that chronic anxiety and depression can have on your body:
- Suppressed immune system
- Reduced ability to focus and problem solve
- Impaired short-term memory
- Reduced sex drive
- Changes in your metabolism
- Increased susceptibility to stomach ulcers
- Cardiovascular problems
- Nervous system malfunction
This is why it's very important to get support and learn new habits if you suffer from anxiety or depression on a daily basis. If you let it eat away at you for too long, it can have devastating effects on and start an unhealthy, downward spiral of physical and emotional distress.
How to Deal with the Emotional Aspects of COPD
There are many proven and effective methods for dealing with challenging, stressful times such as living with COPD. Relaxation techniques like meditation, breathing exercises, and a variety of other activities can make all the difference when you're dealing with overwhelming emotions.
In this next section, we're going to introduce you to a variety of these techniques that you can use today to help reduce your anxiety, feel better, and gain back control over your life. If you take the time to learn and practice some of these techniques when you feel down or overwhelmed, you can teach yourself to redirect your negative energy to relaxing and calming activities, instead.
Therapeutic Activities for Emotional and Mental Health
Staying active and doing physical activities is one of the best ways to keep your mind and body healthy. It's a great way to get rid of extra tension and negative energy, and it can strengthen your breathing muscles and help your COPD symptoms, too.
Regular exercise gives you more energy and strength during the day at the same time that it makes it easier to relax and sleep at night. You'll feel stronger, more confident, and more in control of your health if you get plenty of physical activity.
Here are just a few of the many emotional benefits of exercise:
- Decreased stress and anxiety
- Improved memory and cognition
- Increased energy levels
- Increased ability to focus and problem-solve
- Increased feelings of happiness and well-being
- Better self image and increased self-confidence
- Feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment
- Protection against cognitive decline
- Increased ability to relax and sleep well at night
Along with its quantifiable physical and mental benefits, regular physical activity will help you feel more confident, secure, and give you a wonderful sense of accomplishment.
If you're not used to exercising regularly, work with your doctor to put together an exercise plan that will ease you into the habit. Start small and set realistic goals, and don't push yourself to the point of feeling too breathless or fatigued. At the same time, don't be afraid to challenge yourself and be as active as you can.
If you like structured activities, you can try joining a gym, group sport, or an exercise club. Many gyms offer a variety of classes such as aerobics, yoga, and tai chi that are great for building physical strength as well as practicing relaxation and breathing techniques.
Yoga & Tai Chi
Yoga and Tai Chi are both great physical activities for people with COPD. They are designed to improve your physical strength and endurance while practicing breathing and relaxation techniques at the same time.
Yoga is a slow-paced exercise that involves holding different stretches and poses which can be adjusted for different strength and skill levels and for people with limited mobility. It's incorporation of deep breathing exercises and meditative practices makes it perfect for patients with COPD, and can help you learn how to control your breath when you exercise.
Tai Chi is a more active exercise technique that uses graceful, flowing actions and encourages constant movement. Like yoga, what makes Tai Chi such a great exercise for COPD is that it also teaches deep breathing techniques as an integral part of the practice.
Both of these exercises are great for building physical endurance and deep breathing skills that can help you manage both the physical symptoms and emotional strain associated with COPD. If you'd like to give these exercises a try, you can look for a gym near you that offers group classes.
If you don't want to go to the gym, you can also follow Tai Chi or Yoga instructional videos by yourself in your own home. You can find guided Yoga and Tai Chi video classes in stores, at your library, and even watch them for free on sites like YouTube and elsewhere online.
Mindfulness meditation is one of the most highly-researched and effective methods for reducing anxiety and depression. In fact, it's considered to be so effective for mental well-being that it should be the one thing you try even if you don't use any of the other techniques on this list.
Mindfulness meditation isn't anything like the kind of meditation you've probably seen in movies and pop culture. It's actually a very simple and relaxing activity that anyone can do; all it takes is a bit of time and patience to see results.
Practicing mindfulness meditation is all about clearing your mind of worries, letting go of distracting thoughts, and living in the present moment. It helps you learn how to separate yourself from your stress and your anxious thoughts, enjoy life without worry, and achieve a quiet inner peace.
To practice basic mindfulness meditation, you start by finding a quiet, comfortable place to sit and close your eyes. Then, you practice just living and being in the present moment. Let go of any specific thoughts and worries, and instead just focus on your breathing and listen to your thoughts as they go by without judgment.
It can be helpful to listen to a guided meditation audio clip or follow along with a written meditation guide. Mindful.org is a great resource for a variety of textual guides and information on mindfulness meditation, or you use one of UCLA Health's guided audio meditation sessions by visiting their website here.
Keep a Journal
Journaling is a proven and effective way to cope with difficult emotions and challenging times in life. In fact, research shows that journaling is a powerful tool for emotional and physical health, and something everyone should do for their mental well-being.
Journaling allows you to write and sort through your thoughts in an entirely private, safe, and non-judgmental environment. No one else will ever have to know the thoughts you put down; you are writing for just you and you alone.
Your journal can be whatever you want to make of it, but its' most helpful when you use it to better understand yourself, others, and sort through difficult feelings. It can be helpful to keep track of your moods and emotions on a daily basis so you can notice trends and patterns and see how you change and grow.
Here are some tips for a successful journaling experience:
- Let Go of Your Internal Filter: Don't think about good grammar, good taste, or what anyone else would think about what you write. Try to write quickly and let the words flow, don't analyze them or judge them. The point is to write down raw, pure, honest thoughts, which is impossible to do if you're constantly editing yourself as you write.
- Journal Every Day: It's easiest to journal regularly if you make it a daily habit. Keep a dedicated journal in an easy-to-access space, and try to set aside at least fifteen minutes of time every evening to write.
- Write About What Matters to You: No one else will see your journal, so you can structure it however you like and write about whatever you want to. Let go of your inner critic and write about whatever comes to mind, or whatever has been on your mind lately.
Practice Breathing Exercises
It can be scary, or even panic-inducing, when you find it difficult to breathe. In fact, it's very common for people who have COPD to experience anxiety during bouts of breathlessness or wheezing.
One of the best defenses against this kind of worry and panic is breathing techniques. Breathing exercises like pursed lips breathing and diaphragmatic breathing are extremely effective and simple ways to calm down and reduce anxiety when you experienced worsened symptoms of COPD.
Most doctors recommend practicing breathing exercises every day, even when you don't feel anxious or breathless. This helps you learn the techniques thoroughly so you can easily remember how to do them in the moment when anxiety and panic strikes.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Technique
Diaphragmatic breathing helps you learn to use your diaphragm instead of your chest muscles to breathe. This allows you to breathe with less effort and can reduce symptoms like chest tightness, breathlessness, and fatigue that often get worse when you feel anxious.
How to Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing
- First, lie on your back in a comfortable position.
- Put one hand on your chest, and the other on your belly.
- Take a deep breath in while trying to breathe from your belly, not your chest. You should feel the hand on your stomach rise while the hand on your chest stays still.
- When you exhale, once again try to push from your stomach instead of your chest. You should feel the hand on your stomach fall as you breathe out while the hand on your chest stays still.
- Repeat until you are successfully breathing from your belly and not your chest. Over time, this will become second nature and you will have better control over your breathing.
Pursed Lips Breathing Technique
Many people with COPD have airways that collapse and lungs that trap air, making it difficult to breathe. Pursed lips breathing helps you open up your airways and push all the air out of your lungs with each breath, which makes it easier and more comfortable to breathe.
How to Practice Pursed Lips Breathing
- Stand or sit in a relaxed position with your back straight.
- Relax your chest muscles and take a deep breath in through your nose lasting about two seconds.
- When you breathe out, purse your lips together (as if you were blowing a kiss) and exhale slowly through your mouth. You should take about twice as long to exhale as you did when you inhaled, about four seconds.
- Repeat several times, or until you feel your breathlessness subside.
Bringing your breathing back under control is the first and most important step to bringing your anxiety and panic back under control, too. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to remember how when you feel anxious or panicked, which is why it's important to practice often.
If you make it a point to practice these breathing exercises every day, then they will eventually become second nature. That way, you'll always be able to recall them even during bouts of severe anxiety emotional distress.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This is a technique often recommended by mental health professionals to combat stress and anxiety. It helps by releasing built-up tension in your body and helping you relax physically and mentally.
To practice progressive muscle relaxation, lie still on your back with your eyes closed and your hands at your sides. Then, focus your attention on each muscle group one-by-one, tensing and subsequently relaxing each group of muscles as you go.
As you tense your muscles, clench them as tightly as you can and focus on the feeling of tension. Then, slowly relax them, focusing on the feeling of lightness and looseness as the tension releases.
This helps you to be more aware of tension in your body and teaches you how to get rid of it through conscious mental control. It's a great exercise to do when your body feels fatigued from anxiety or to help you relax at night before bed.
For a more detailed guide to progressive muscle relaxation, see this step-by-step guide from Berkeley Law.
Everyday Habits for Emotional Health
Don't underestimate the healing powers of a healthy, balanced diet. Eating well is not just important for your physical health, but it's necessary for your mental and emotional well-being, too.
You should eat a diet full of raw fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins to keep your body and mind in top shape. It's also best to avoid junk food, sugar, alcohol, and caffeine, which can drain your energy and leave you feeling even worse.
Try to cook most of your meals at home and choose foods that are nutrient-dense and not processed. A healthy diet can go a long way toward improving your energy levels, physical symptoms, and overall mental health.
Get Better Sleep
It's easy to feel anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed when you don't get enough sleep. Negative emotions can also create a negative feedback loop at bedtime, where anxiety makes it difficult to sleep well, and then not sleeping well, in turn, makes your anxiety worse.
That's why it's very important to develop healthy sleep habits and a relaxing bedtime routine. It's easiest to get to sleep when you go to bed at the same time every night and banish television, laptops, and other electronics from the bedroom.
It can also be helpful to develop a relaxing routine to follow every night before bedtime. Small rituals like taking a bath, reading a book, or doing yoga before bed can help your body slowly get ready for sleep so you're more relaxed when you get in bed.
If you have difficulty falling asleep at night, try changing some of your nighttime habits and creating a more comfortable sleeping environment. Here are a few techniques and pieces of advice to get you started:
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bedtime
- Stop drinking water a few hours before bed to avoid nighttime trips to the bathroom
- Avoid eating before bed, which can cause stomach distress, bloating, and make it more difficult to breathe
- Practice progressive muscle relaxation in bed to reduce tension and relax your body
- Don't watch TV or look at a screen too close to bedtime, because it can disrupt your natural sleep cycle and make it difficult to fall asleep
- Use your bed only for sleeping and sex; don't read, check emails, or watch TV in your bed
- Use nighttime oxygen if you have trouble breathing at night while you sleep
- Use a humidifier if you suffer from a dry or sore throat in the morning
- See a sleep specialist to get tested for sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a common condition that affects many people who have COPD, and it can severely disrupt your sleep and lead to serious physical complications if left untreated.
People often have a number of unnecessary sources of stress in their lives that they could avoid or manage better if they tried. However, if you never take the time to analyze your life and discover what these stressors are, you'll never be able to address them or find any solutions.
If you often find yourself worried, stressed, or overwhelmed, it's worth it to take a few minutes to sit down and really think about the stressors in your life. If you can identify some of the things that cause you stress on a daily basis, you can brainstorm ways to work around them or avoid them altogether.
Think about the personal stressors in your life. That is, stressors related to your personal thoughts, habits, and routine. Do you have low self-esteem? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you stressed out about finances? Is a hectic schedule causing you to feel anxious?
Many people also have stressors related to family and friends. Do you have any strained relationships you need to address? Are there toxic or discouraging people in your life? Is your disease affecting your ability to spend time with friends or have a satisfying sex life?
Finally, think about stressors related to your home and work environment. Are you struggling to keep up with household tasks? Do you find running errands outside of the house stressful? Is your work environment gloomy and uncomfortable?
Once you've identified the people, habits, and other aspects of your life that are causing you stress, you then have the opportunity to come up with solutions. Think about ways you can reduce, avoid, or eliminate the major stressors in your daily life.
It's not always simple or easy to avoid stress, but simply being aware of your major stress triggers can help prepare you to cope with them better. You might also be able to find simple solutions to address a variety of stressors, such as re-organizing your home for better efficiency or scheduling time for daily meditation to reduce the stress of a busy schedule.
Start Your Days Right
Even if you don't have work or an appointment to get up for, try to get up and get dressed at the same time every day. This will not only improve your sleep and energy levels, but it will help put you in a productive and positive mindset for the day.
It can also help to establish a relaxing morning ritual, for example, drinking coffee on the porch, taking a morning walk, or cooking yourself a healthy breakfast. Try to have a goal for every day and complete at least one important task, that way you end every day with a feeling of accomplishment and don't lose track of your responsibilities.
Try to set aside a little bit of time every morning to go over your daily tasks, including any medications you need to take, physical activities, doctor's appointments, and work or social engagements. This will help you stay focused and plan for what's important, that way you don't find yourself stressed out and disorganized later.
Also, keeping a daily planner or calendar is a must to help you keep track of activities and responsibilities. That way you don't have to manage it all in your head, and you'll be able to stay focused and on top of your life without unnecessary stress.
Keep Up With Work & Hobbies
When you have COPD, it's vital to stay active and involved as many of your regular activities and responsibilities as possible. That includes work, exercise, shopping, and other hobbies, as long as you get the okay from your doctor.
Of course, this isn't always possible. You'll need to take a break from some or all of your everyday responsibilities when you experience worsened symptoms, exacerbations, or hospitalizations.
However, as soon as you recover well enough and you get permission from your doctor to resume your normal routine, you should get back into as many of your regular hobbies and activities as possible. Decreasing your activity level, staying in the house, and letting yourself get depressed will only make your situation, and your disease, even worse.
Don't allow your disease to limit you any more than necessary, and don't let it isolate you, either. It's important to take care of your mental health and do everything you can to prevent yourself from getting into a sedentary routine.
The only way to prevent physical decline and live a fulfilling life with COPD is to stay physically active and continue engaging in as many of the same activities you were involved in before you were diagnosed with COPD. If you do your best to keep up with your career, hobbies, housework, exercise and everything else that keeps you healthy and active, you'll be better able to manage your symptoms, live life to the fullest, and even slow the progression of your disease.
Opportunities for Support
Join a COPD Support Group
If you often feel anxious or depressed about your disease, you should think about joining a COPD support group. Spending time and talking with other people who are going through the same thing you are can help you work through any feelings of fear, anger, grief, and loneliness that you might feel.
It's normal to feel these things when living with a chronic disease like COPD, and it's healthy to seek support. A COPD support group is a great way to get help from other people who understand and have experience dealing with the same emotional and physical struggles that you have to face.
Depending on where you live, you might be able to find an in-person support group that meets in your local area. To find one, you can talk to your doctor, a local mental health service, or search for one online.
The American Lung Association also hosts in-person support groups for people with COPD and other lung conditions through their Better Breathers Club. Visit their website here for more information and to find a Better Breathers Club near you.
If an in-person support group isn't for you, you can find a variety of support groups and COPD communities on the internet. In an online support group, you can chat with others in a safe, supportive online community from the comfort of your own home.
Talk to a Therapist
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Sometimes the emotional strain of dealing with a chronic disease is too much to handle on your own. Even when you have the support of family and friends, you might still need the help of a professional to get through these difficult times.
Mental health professionals can provide you with psychological and emotional support through talk therapy, medication, and other therapeutic techniques. If you find yourself struggling to manage your stress or anxiety day by day, a professional therapist or psychiatrist can give you the extra support and tools you need to thrive and make it through.
If you are having trouble dealing with stress, anxiety, or other negative emotions on your own, don't hesitate to seek professional help. Just like everyone needs a physical doctor to tend to physical ailments they can't handle themselves, everyone also needs a mental health professional from time to time to tend to emotional wounds that they can't heal alone.
There are a variety of medications, including anti-depressants, that doctors mental health professionals can prescribe you to treat anxiety and depression. If you think you are suffering from clinical depression or chronic anxiety, you can ask your doctor about getting medication or to get a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Most anti-depressant medications can have serious side effects, however, so make sure to talk to your doctor about potential negative effects of any medication you are prescribed. Make sure to always take your medication according to your doctor's instructions and don't stop taking your prescription without talking to your doctor first.
Take a Pulmonary Rehabilitation Class
Many people with COPD are able to feel better, exercise better, and manage their symptoms better after attending a pulmonary rehabilitation class. These classes are specially designed for people struggling with COPD and other respiratory conditions, and cover a variety of physical and mental health topics.
At pulmonary rehabilitation you will learn how to use your medications, exercise effectively, and live an active, fulfilling life with COPD. Most classes include licensed medical and mental health professionals who share their knowledge, teach new skills, and answer patients' questions.
Attending a pulmonary rehabilitation class is a great way to get support from other people with COPD who are going through the same physical and emotional struggles as you are. Some classes even offer group therapy sessions and other forms of mental health support.
Working through your problems with others who are sharing the same struggle can make you feel much more in control of your physical and mental health, especially if you're struggling with feelings of anxiety, depression, or isolation because of your disease. That's why pulmonary rehabilitation is such a great way to get a better handle on both the physical and emotional aspects of COPD.
Spend Time With Family and Friends
No one should have to deal with a chronic disease on their own. It's important not to isolate yourself because of your disease, even if you feel depressed, breathless, or fatigued.
Talk to your family and friends about what you're going through and spend time with people who care about you as often as you can. Just calling up a friend for a casual chat can make a huge difference on days when you feel anxious or lonely.
Take part in family gatherings and plan your own family get-togethers, or join a club to help you stay active and get out of the house. Use your diagnosis as an opportunity to reconnect with people you love and you'll have the support and confidence you need to get through whatever difficult times may come.
Delegate and Ask for Help
Dealing with a chronic disease comes with a lot of changes and new responsibilities. You might have a new diet, a new exercise schedule, and a new medication regimen after getting diagnosed with COPD.
This can be a lot to handle on your own, especially if you suffer from severe symptoms or reduced mobility. That's why it's a good idea to enlist the help of friends and family to help you manage your new responsibilities as well as your old ones.
As your disease progresses, it will become more and more important to delegate some of your weekly tasks and responsibilities like cleaning, cooking, and shopping. You will likely find yourself unable to be as active as you used to be and find certain errands and household responsibilities more difficult.
Having someone else take you to doctor's appointments, call to check up on you every day, or help you prepare meals a few times a week can take a lot of stress and pressure out of your daily life. Have family members rotate difficult or unpleasant tasks and split up responsibilities so no one feels burdened. Your friends and family will likely understand and be happy to help you out when they can.
Focus On What You Can Control
Many people feel shock, anger, and other overwhelming negative emotions for a time after being diagnosed with COPD. However, many people find that the worst of it goes away after they begin following a treatment plan and making positive changes to their diet and lifestyle.
Instead of focusing on your symptoms, your diagnosis, or other things that you cannot change, try to focus on the things that you can do something about. If you work on your health, focus on the things that make you happy, and take control of your life, you'll find that living with COPD isn't as scary as it once was.
In some ways, getting diagnosed with COPD is a blessing in disguise. It's much better to know that you have the disease than to live with the symptoms and have no diagnosis at all.
Knowledge is power, and learning about your disease and working with your doctor gives you the opportunity to treat your disease and make your situation better. It allows you to use the right medications, build the right habits, and make the right changes to your life so you can stay as healthy as possible.
Telephone and Online COPD Resources
There are a variety of online resources and telephone hotlines you can call to get information and support for COPD. Telephone hotlines can provide information or give you support in a crisis, while online communities are a great way to get support at any time of day.
- COPD Information Line: 1-866-316-2673
- Lung Help Line and Tobacco Quit Line: 1-800-586-4872
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Online Support Resources:
- The Better Breathers Club
- The Lung Connection Community
- My Fighting for Air Community
- International COPD Chat Room COPD International Chat Room
What NOT to Do to Stay Emotionally Healthy with COPD
Dwell on What-Ifs
Many people struggle with feelings of guilt, remorse, and regret when they first get diagnosed with COPD. It can be easy to focus of the what-ifs, the could-be's, and the should-have's, but doing so will only make you feel worse.
Many people develop COPD as a result of unhealthy habits throughout their lives, but many people develop it as a result of chance or bad luck. Even people who never smoke can develop COPD, and people who do smoke can develop COPD as a result of unrelated factors.
Everyone makes mistakes, everyone takes risks, and everyone has unhealthy habits. However, only some people end up with chronic diseases like COPD as a result. That's why it's not helpful to dwell on what caused your COPD or what you could have/would have/should have done to prevent it; all that really matters is what you can and will do right now.
It's important to let go of the past and whatever guilt and regret you may have, otherwise you won't be able to focus on the present and the future. You can't control what's already happened, but you can take control of the present and develop healthy habits and new plans for how to preserve your health and make your future better.
Focus on your treatment plan, your hobbies, staying active, and caring for your own physical and emotional health. Look to the future and prioritize what's important in your life, and charge forward with confidence. You can't do anything about how you got to where you are, but you can take control of your life now and live the best possible life that you can.
Dealing with the emotional strain of a chronic disease is not something most people can do on their own. Most people need the support, encouragement, and assistance of friends and family to make it through.
You can't do everything on your own, so if you need help, don't stay silent. If you need someone to help you run errands, go with you to the doctor's office for support, or you simply need companionship on lonely days, don't be afraid to ask the people close to you.
Likewise, don't be afraid to seek professional help from a mental health professional, either. You should not hesitate to contact a therapist or psychiatrist if you are having trouble managing the emotional impact of your disease.
If you find that anxiety or depression is affecting your life, don't ignore it. Seek help, because living with a chronic disease shouldn't cause you to sacrifice your metal well-being.
Having COPD can make exercise and many daily activities difficult. When you feel anxious, breathless, or fatigued it can be hard to motivate yourself to do the things you need to do to stay healthy, such as eating healthy, staying active, and getting out of the house.
But it's important to remember that getting out of the house and doing physical activities are necessary to keep your body and mind healthy, especially when you have COPD. It's also an important step for breaking out of negative cycles of anxiety and depression.
If you stay indoors and stay sedentary, you're only likely to speed up your own emotional and physical decline. If you feel nervous about doing things outside of your house because of your physical COPD symptoms, you should talk to your doctor to find ways to make it easier for you to leave home.
You might be able to take medication or supplemental oxygen with you when you go out so you don't have to worry about feeling short of breath. If it's anxiety or depression that's keeping you down, your doctor can recommend medication or mental health services that can help you work through it and enjoy life again.
Don't let exacerbations, hospitalizations, or physical symptoms get in the way of living a full and fulfilling life. Spend time with family and friends, pick up old hobbies, join clubs, find new activities, and do whatever it takes to stay active and involved in your interests.
The worst thing that you can do for your physical and mental health is be sedentary, depressed, and give up on hobbies and activities outside your home. Never let you disease control your life; instead, stay active, independent, and surround yourself with the people and things you care about.
You should know that, even though managing a chronic disease is never easy, you don't have to let it take a major toll on your mental health. It's important to take your emotional well-being seriously and take advantage of the many techniques, activities, and professional resources that can help you navigate the emotional aspects of COPD.
With all of the techniques and activities on this list in your tool belt, you should be much better equipped to deal with the emotional challenges of living with COPD. But just knowing when you need to step back, slow down, and focus on your personal health is an important skill, and one you should practice often.
The earlier you recognize the signs of anxiety and depression, the better equipped you will be to take action against them. Keep these ideas and techniques at the ready for when stress and anxiety hit, and never be afraid to seek support from family, friends, or professionals when you need it.