Coping with Stress - Part 1: Fear and Uncertainty

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Life can be stressful, especially if you have a chronic disease. COPD, a chronic, incurable, progressive disease can bring on major compromises to your physical activities and to your emotional wellbeing. No wonder it is normal to feel stress when you have COPD! So what can you do? Let’s start by looking at some common causes of stress for anyone, with or without COPD.

  • Common stressors
  • The death of a loved one
  • Divorce
  • Loss of a job
  • Financial problems
  • Getting married
  • Moving to a new home
  • Taking care of an aging or sick family member
  • Traumatic event such as a natural disaster, theft, or violence against you or a loved one

COPD and Stress Most of these big stressors are unhappy events, but we also see that it’s possible to have “good” stress. Yet, sometimes doing something less monumental, such as attending a wedding or a graduation ceremony or visiting a new baby can still be stressful. Simply observing these life events can cause a change in your everyday routine - and maybe lead to a change in your life as a whole.

Whether or not stressors are triggered by bad/sad or good/happy events, many times they are things over which we have little or no control. One step towards being less stressed is learning what you can control and what you cannot control. In this article we’re going to talk about a common cause of stress in individuals with COPD: Fear and uncertainty.

Fear and Uncertainty

One of the most common causes for stress in people with COPD is concern about getting an acute exacerbation of COPD (a period of worsened symptoms, usually due a respiratory infection). You know all too well that a cold or flu germ that is a mere inconvenience to somebody with normal healthy lungs can become a major problem for you. So it can be stressful to worry about getting pneumonia, going to the hospital, and possibly losing ground that you may never gain back. Having an acute exacerbation of COPD is, while not always possible, something you can have some control over. This is not to say you’ll be completely successful at doing so each and every time. But if you know what signs to watch for, then act on them before they become big problems, you’ll be more likely to minimize illness and keep on living your life. Here are some early signs of acute exacerbation of COPD.

Report Warning Signs of Exacerbations

Notify your health care provider of these early warning signs:

  • Low grade fever that doesn’t go away
  • Increased use of rescue medications
  • Change in color, thickness, odor or amount of mucus
  • Tiredness that lasts more than one day
  • New or increased ankle swelling

Call 911 for dangerous warning signs:

  • Disorientation, confusion or slurring of speech
  • Severe shortness of breath or chest pain
  • Blue color in lips or fingers

In addition to watching out for early warning signs of exacerbation, talk with your health care provider about working together on a COPD action plan.

You can download a copy of the Report Exacerbations sheet and the COPD Action Plan. Chances are you didn’t choose to have COPD, and you may not have much power to change what happens in the outside world. But starting now you can choose to learn all you can and take charge of your COPD management to be as healthy and active as possible – and stay in control of your breathing and your life.

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