Is Stress Making My COPD Worse?

This article was reviewed by Senior Director of Community Engagement and COPD360social Community Manager, Bill Clark, as well as certified staff Respiratory Therapists on February 23, 2020.

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.

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!

Take Care!
The COPD Coach

Coaches Corner 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 The COPD Coach.


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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.