Regardless of our career choice, favorite hobbies, and general interests, all humans have one thing in common — a desire to live meaningful and productive lives. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always go as planned. We may know exactly what we want to accomplish one minute, but all of a sudden everything is turned on its head and we need to adapt and reevaluate what’s important to us.
A COPD diagnosis is just one of these life-changing events that can throw a wrench in your plans and make you question whether or not you’ll ever be able to accomplish the things you’ve set out to do. And with around 9 million Americans being diagnosed with this disease every year, you’re by no means alone in feeling this way.
COPD is a debilitating disease, meaning it impairs your physical abilities and makes you feel fatigued or restless more easily than someone without the disease. Since COPD involves inflammation of the lungs, the simple task of breathing can use up to 10 times more calories in COPD patients and even moderate physical activity can leave you feeling winded and light headed.
What’s more, there are the psychological effects of coping with a chronic condition. Many people will feel guilty about their COPD diagnosis, believing that if they had made different lifestyle choices, they wouldn’t have contracted the disease. Or they may experience anxiety about their increased dependency on a loved one or friend.
All of these things can weigh down on you and make it really difficult to focus on leading a fulfilling and meaningful life. Whether you’ve just been diagnosed with COPD or you’ve been coping with it for a while, we’re going to give you some tips for getting back on track and letting your COPD symptoms empower you instead of bringing you down.
Set Goals For Yourself
Chances are, you’ve been setting goals for yourself your whole life whether you know it or not. Goals are what propel us forward and drive us to accomplish things that we never thought were possible. The problem with COPD or any chronic condition that can take an emotional toll on someone is that it can distract you from setting goals.
Some people see themselves as more of a passive goal setter, meaning they may be self-aware of their goals, but they may not write them down or talk about them frequently. On the other hand, some people are much more engaged with their goal setting. These “active” goal setters likely write down their short-term and long-term goals, prioritize them, and discuss them with friends often.
Regardless of what type of goal setter you are, what matters is that you have them. People who set goals lead more fulfilling lives because they have a sense of direction and they are able to report to themselves and others on how far they’ve come which can be very rewarding.
Reevaluate Your Goals
It’s only natural that when your circumstances change, so to do your goals. The first step towards living a more fulfilling life with COPD is to revisit your goals and decide what to keep and what to get rid of. For some people, this may mean changing all their goals while for others it may mean making little or no changes.
Your long-term goals are a good place to start because they’re the most important and they’re dependent on the success you have with your short-term goals. Start by asking yourself what limitations COPD has set for you. Has your respiratory condition prevented you from exercising the way you used to? Has it prevented you from visiting with friends or participating in a club that you enjoy?
Reevaluating your goals doesn’t mean giving up the things that you love to do. Instead, it could mean changing how you do them or the mindset that you approach them with. For example, if you have enjoyed exercising and staying in shape your whole life, all of this is possible with COPD, but you’ll need to be smart about the way you go about it.
As such, your goal could be to work with a doctor or respiratory health specialist to solidify an exercise plan that accommodates your disabilities. Once this is done, you can start to set goals for yourself again within the scope of your disease. Reevaluating your diet and the way you eat can also help you achieve these long-term goals.
Become an Active Goal Setter
Becoming an active goal setter means becoming more mentally and emotionally involved in the goals you set. This means you won’t simply be setting a goal and having it on the backburner every day you wake up; it means writing down your goals and making them a part of you. Active goal setters are usually seen as more motivated or “intense” because they have a clear vision of what they want their life to be like and will go to the ends of the earth to make it happen.
Writing down your goals is usually the best place to start. Try thinking of three long-term goals that you would like to accomplish within the next year or two. Although you should be ambitious with your goals, make sure they are attainable and realistic. Once you’ve done that, write down all of the short-term goals that you’ll need to do in order to accomplish your long-term ones. Now all you have to do is focus on accomplishing those short-term goals and begin checking them off one-by-one.
Another part of becoming an active goal setter is making others aware of your goals. The great thing about friends and family members being aware of your goals is that they will hold you accountable for them. If you quit discussing your goals or it seems like you’re falling behind on them, they will ask you about them and may help you achieve them if you’re struggling.
Focus On Relationships
While having goals and accomplishing them as an individual is important, it pales in comparison to the sense of purpose we feel when connecting to those around us. According to Psychology Today, one of the single most important factors to happiness is healthy relationships and this is no different for someone suffering with COPD.
Aside from helping you achieve your goals, friends and family are there to support you through thick and thin, and putting them at the center of your life will do you a world of good. Some people may find it best to work on improving relationships they currently have, while others will want to focus on creating new relationships.
Understanding Give and Take
With any good relationship, there’s always a give and take. What this means is that both people in the relationship are doing their part. Unfortunately, many people with COPD or other chronic conditions get into a mindset that nothing they do will provide value to the relationship and that their friends or family simply become caretakers.
Fortunately, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are many things that someone with COPD can do to provide value to their relationships. First and foremost, being emotionally available and communicative will show the person that you want a relationship with them and that you’re not just relying on them for support. Even people who aren’t coping with a chronic disease experience daily struggles and anything you can do to help them with that can give you a greater sense of purpose in your relationship and in your life.
One great thing you can do daily is to volunteer in your community or be an active mentor to someone in your life. According to the Atlanta Homecare Partners, tutoring kids at a nearby school or putting together a care package for someone abroad are great ways to enrich your life and give something back to people you care about. You can even work on putting together a scrapbook or video on your family history so that the next generation is more enriched and can pass these stories onto their children. Try to use your imagination and come up with something that's important to your and those around you, then go for it!
Another part of "give and take" is knowing that asking for help is not a burden on those you love. In fact, many relationship experts would suggest that asking for favors is actually a good way to build a relationship and show someone that they’re valued. Either way, being open about the challenges you’re facing will build stronger relationships.
Meet Like-Minded People
Although relationships with family members are something you can always work on, sometimes finding new friendships is what will benefit you most. For someone coping with a chronic lung disease, finding unique friendships is especially important. While friends and family will do their best to understand what you’re going through, other people with COPD will be able to relate to you a lot more. What’s more, you’ll be able to exchange tips for dealing with your lung condition which can always help you in the long term.
There are a couple places you can meet people with COPD, one of them being online forums like COPD360social by the COPD Foundation. Pulmonary rehabilitation classes are also a great place to meet lifelong friends while simultaneously improving your COPD symptoms.
Follow Your Treatment Plan
COPD is a respiratory condition that can’t be cured, but that doesn’t mean that its symptoms can’t be drastically reduced. By following the treatment plan that your doctor has set for you as closely as possible, you will be able to feel much better and focus your physical and mental energy on enjoying life rather than coping with challenging symptoms.
Your diet has a huge impact on not just your respiratory health, but your overall well-being. Maintaining a poor or unbalanced diet can lead to anxiety, affect mood, and interfere with your enjoyment of life. And if you have COPD, this can make it even more difficult to deal with your symptoms.
What’s more, as a COPD patient, your diet is already much more restricted than the diets of people without COPD. You need to cut back significantly on salt, certain fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and fried foods. If you’d like to learn more, read our blog titled 11 Foods You Should Avoid With COPD.
Exercise is important for COPD patients because it helps them retain their lung function as long as possible while preventing exacerbations. According to studies published in the American Thoracic Society Journal, exercise leads to a significant improvement in dyspnea (shortness of breath), functional capacity, and a reduced need for hospitalization.
Another benefit of exercise is that it will improve your sleep quality. According to a consumer report, 27 percent of people have difficulty falling asleep, and that’s not to mention the millions of people across the country who have sleep apnea. And when these issues combine with a poor exercise routine, you’re in for a bad night’s sleep every night. Eventually, your well-being will take a toll and you’ll feel a lot less fulfilled with your life.
Oxygen therapy is one of the most common and effective treatment options for COPD. Luckily, nowadays, there are plenty of options available to people based on the severity of their condition and their needs. Portable oxygen concentrators for COPD are the most state-of-the-art products offered in the way of oxygen therapy devices and allow you to travel wherever you please without limitations.
Oxygen therapy is designed to help relieve symptoms of COPD allowing you to live your life without feeling out of breath, fatigued or light headed throughout the day. Modern portable oxygen concentrators are ultra-lightweight so you’ll hardly even know that you’re carrying it around with you.
According to Healthline.com, 90 percent of instances of COPD are caused by smoking. Although it is very difficult to get out of the habit of smoking, it is imperative that you do so as soon as possible. It’s unlikely that COPD symptoms will ever improve without complete cessation. Not only that, but there are many other negative effects of smoking.
Weakened Immune System
According to Smokefree.gov, contains chemicals and tar that can reduce your immune system’s ability to fight off infection. In turn, you’ll be much more vulnerable to things like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, the common cold, and even cancer! As a COPD patient, it’s important to remember that any sickness affecting your lungs or airways will increase the amount of exacerbations you experience.
Smoking also increases the time it takes for your body to heal. Nicotine will cause your blood vessels to constrict meaning less oxygen and nutrients are being sent throughout your body. This reduced rate of healing may increase your chances for infection or painful skin ulcers causing tissue to die.
Many Americans wake up feeling groggy and tired and are barely able to make it through the day. Unfortunately, COPD and smoking can amplify this through muscle deterioration. After smoking a cigarette, less blood and oxygen are transported to the muscles leaving them feeling fatigued, causing aches and pains, and eventually muscle loss.
In COPD, muscle is lost through a process called peripheral muscle wasting. This is usually caused by exercise intolerance, hypoxia (low tissue oxygen levels), and even corticosteroids, a type of medicine used to reduce inflammation. These drugs are known to decrease testosterone, so it’s important to speak with your doctor if you’re concerned about weight management with COPD.
Coughing and Wheezing
Chances are, you’ve heard the term “smoker’s cough” before. Many smokers experience this after they’ve been smoking for years and it’s not likely that it will go away without having time to heal. But when your lungs are already inflamed and damaged from COPD, these coughing and wheezing attacks are even more dangerous. A coughing fit is one of the most common signs of a COPD exacerbation.
Second Hand Smoke
Possibly the most important reason to quit smoking is because of second hand smoke. When you smoke a cigarette, you’re not just exposing yourself to deadly chemicals, you’re exposing everyone else around you. And if you’re trying to foster new relationships, being a chronic smoker will make this significantly more difficult.
In general, continuing to smoke with COPD will significantly reduce your quality of life and prevent you from living a rewarding life. Cigarettes are expensive and so is treating COPD. Oftentimes, private health insurance companies or Medicare won’t help you pay for oxygen treatment or regular doctor’s visits so purchasing cigarettes will only contribute to any financial strain you may be facing.
Appreciate The Little Things
This is great advice for just about anyone but it rings especially true for those suffering with a debilitating condition. Appreciating the little things means never expecting great things to happen to you but making the best of all the little things that make you happy. For example, having dinner with your family or going outside for some fresh air during the day. These are things that many people take for granted.
One way to be more grateful for the little things is to be more vocal about it. Why not make it a tradition to mention one thing you’re grateful for every time you sit down for dinner with your family? You can even write them down and look back at it in a year or two to see what kinds of things you appreciated in the past. If your COPD symptoms ever get worse, you’ll be much more likely to focus on all the positive things happening in your life than the negatives.
Plan a Trip
Research shows time and time again that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to anxiety, depression, and unhappiness. Although it’s significantly more difficult to be active with COPD, it’s important to get out and about as much as possible. Your doctor will be a great resource for you in determining what amount of activity is healthy and what could potentially worsen your condition.
Aside from exercising, you should plan on getting out and exploring. Talk to a friend or family member about driving to a place you’ve never been before or visit a favorite spot from your childhood. Not only will this help you with your relationships but just going somewhere that you don’t go often or have never been before can contribute to your sense of purpose and happiness.
Many portable oxygen concentrators are approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), so if you want to take a flight, they’re a great option for taking oxygen therapy with you wherever you go!
Learn a New Skill
There seems to be a misconception that learning is only something you do when you’re young. Many adults or elders are discouraged from learning something new like an instrument or getting interested in a new hobby, because they feel like they’re too far behind people who have been doing them their whole life.
Fortunately, we live in a world full of opportunities and just because you can’t be “the best” at something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it! Whether you’re having trouble figuring out goals to set for yourself or you just feel like you need something to keep your mind busy, it never hurts to pick up a new skill to work on.
Focus On The Big Picture
Last, but certainly not least, you should try to focus on the big picture. What is it that you want to accomplish in your life? Can you take this goal and break it into more manageable parts that you can work towards on a daily basis? Instead of getting caught up on the issues you’re experiencing on a daily basis focus on the big picture.
If the day’s over and you’re closer towards achieving your goals, that’s all that matters! Don’t worry about when it will happen or if it will happen, simply focus on progress. If you do that, everything will fall into place and you will be amazed at what you’re able to accomplish.
There’s no doubt about it, living with a chronic disease like COPD is not easy. Having reduced lung function will mean feeling fatigued and short of breath more frequently. And although COPD can’t be cured, it can be treated by carefully following the recommendations of your doctor and pulmonologist, and educating yourself about your condition.
Spending time with family, learning new skills, and setting goals can also give you a greater sense of purpose and ensure that you’re focusing on all the positive things in your life rather than the negative. And speaking with other COPD sufferers or like-minded people who share your passions and interests can have incredible therapeutic effects and lead to long-lasting friendships.