Is Stress Making My COPD Worse?

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Dear COPD Coach,
I have been living with COPD for several years and find that it is getting harder to breathe. This is making me feel very stressed, and I think the stress alone is making my symptoms worse. Do you have any advice on how to stop it?


Dear Stressed,
The mechanism you are referring to works something like this. You have difficulty breathing or get out of breath and breathing become stressed, which in turn causes even more difficulty breathing, which then causes more stress — until it spirals out of control. There is probably no worse feeling than not being able to breathe!

The progression of COPD along with breathing difficulties is often slow, but in some cases progresses more quickly. Adapting to this change can be difficult and might require some action on your part. When you start feeling anxious or stressed, give yourself a “time out.” Sit, relax and try pursed lips breathing until the stress or anxiety passes. You might also try taking your mind off your breathing by reading or watching a movie or TV show.

Stress Cycle If you still are not able to control the stress and anxiety, you might consider talking with your doctor about medication to “take the edge off” the stress and anxiety attacks and help you cope better.

You might also consider joining a support group if you have one in your area, or getting involved in a pulmonary education program where you can interact with others who have COPD. The camaraderie and interaction can be very beneficial!

Lastly, please know that you are not alone. If you need us, we are just a phone call away by calling our C.O.P.D. Information Line at 866-316 COPD (2673), staffed by COPD patients and open from 9AM until 9PM EST. Associates are trained to help and can always offer some great advice or support. Of course you can always count on us at the COPD360social community to support you.

Take Care!
The COPD Coach

Ask the Expert is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice. If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us at We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to any of the following: COPD Coach, Caregiver Coach, COPD Doctor or COPD RT.


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  • Thank you for this information. I have had this complete breathless feeling several times recently. I have an appointment with my pulmonologist tomorrow. I will speak with him about my issue. Sometimes, an explanation of what is going on goes a long way.
  • thanks, liked the article, at my stage air conditioning is key for me, not so much for heat but controlling the humidity, makes all the difference between copping and being very sick.
  • Had similar problem. Went to Pulmonologist. Said it was anxiety! Husband passed away a few months ago so Dr. told me to be mindful of my breathing and try to relax. He was not concerned. I thought I was next! Much better now and I can recognize the spiraling cycle.


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