Here at the Wednesday Check in, we often talk about things you can do to take care of your COPD: watching out for early warning signs of exacerbations (flare-ups), taking medications (including supplemental oxygen if prescribed) as directed by your doctor, doing regular exercise, and more. It’s important to take care of these things that affect COPD physically. But it is also important to take care of your emotional health. A good start is to know yourself well enough to recognize when emotional issues may be getting in the way of having a life that is as full and happy as possible in spite of COPD. Two of these emotional issues are anxiety and depression. There is a lot we can learn about these two common issues, but here is a quick look.
What does it look like?
Being short of breath (SOB) can cause anxiety—and anxiety can increase shortness of breath. The more anxious you feel about your breathing, the worse it gets. Two people with the same amount of shortness of breath, may have very different feelings about it. One might say, “I am having trouble breathing,” seeing it as more or less a nuisance that can be managed. Another may be thinking, “I will die of suffocation.” Some individuals, when anxious, hold their breath or start breathing rapidly. Others may feel as though their chest is tightening, or their throat is closing. These are just a few normal human responses when our bodies perceive that something may harm us.
Something that may help you feel less anxious is to use breathing techniques: pursed-lip breathing (PLB) and diaphragmatic breathing (DB). Visit this page for step-by-step instructions and a video demonstration: Breathing Techniques | COPD Foundation.
Other things that may help are:
- Learning relaxation skills to relax tense muscles and anxious thoughts.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation, including exercise and socialization.
- An anxiety medication, prescribed by your doctor, if needed.
- Talking with a counselor or other mental health professional. It’s okay to talk with somebody about issues that affect your health, happiness, and well-being.
What does it look like?
- Loss of interest in favorite activities
- Always feeling tired
- Frequent sadness
- Significant weight change
- Wishing to be left alone
- Trouble sleeping
- Lack of appetite
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty concentrating
If you feel, or are even beginning to feel this way, talk with your doctor.
- If an anti-depressant medication might be right for you.
- If you should talk with a counselor or other mental health specialist.
- To be referred to pulmonary rehabilitation—the exercise and socialization components of rehab can help.
It may also be helpful to talk with an understanding friend or clergy, or to join a local breathing support, online community, or a harmonica group.
Effect on relationships and family life
Your loved ones may have good intentions and try to help, but they often have no idea what it’s like to live with COPD. And it can be hard for them to think of you as anxious or depressed. This may lead to you becoming isolated from your family members and losing interest in relating to others. Educate your family. Invite them to go with you to an in-person meeting of your local breathing support group, observe a pulmonary rehab session, or visit on online breathing support community.
Having anxiety or depression shows, simply, that you are human and that your feelings are normal—and common. Seeking help or accepting treatment does not mean you have lost control, or that you have failed. There is help, and there is a lot you can do to feel better if you have anxiety and/or depression with COPD.
How about you? Have you had feelings of anxiety and/or depression with COPD? If so, what helps? Let's talk! I look forward to hearing from you!