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Helping Your Patients Enjoy the Holidays

Posted on November 18, 2016   |   
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Jane Martin, BA, LRT, CRT, COPDF Associate Director of Education, shares some thoughts on supporting your chronic lung disease patients to enjoy the upcoming holidays.

If you’re healthy and free of chronic disease, the holidays can be stressful enough. But what about your patients with COPD, IPF and other chronic lung diseases? They might be looking at the holidays with anxiety and fear and be inclined to say, “I think I’ll just forget the whole thing and stay home.”

At first, this might seem like the safe thing to do, but our patients with chronic lung disease are already prone to experiencing social isolation, loneliness and depression. If it is possible for them to get out and participate in select holiday events and activities, while staying safe and well, we should encourage it. Here are some tips for discussing the upcoming holidays and how they can participate and enjoy.

Starting the conversation

Talking with your chronic lung disease patients about doing something they are anxious about may overwhelm them. Start by validating their feelings of anxiety and fear. “I can see why you would feel that way.” Ask, “What is your worst fear when you think about joining in a holiday event?” Listen carefully to their response, then suggest ways they may approach common barriers. Recommend that they consult with their physician before doing something new or different.

Avoid and/or work around triggers

Here are just a few examples of common holiday triggers and suggestions to avoid or work around them.

  • Scented candles – Ask your host if they wouldn’t mind not lighting them until after you’ve left the party. Explain that the scent irritates your lungs and you won’t be able to appreciate the party if the candles get in the way of your ability to breathe.
  • Cold and flu germs – Small children who are coughing and sneezing do not cover their mouth and nose. With older children and adults avoid shaking hands and kissing on the lips.
  • Cold air – Wear a mask or scarf over your nose and mouth in to keep your airways from having spasms, often causing an uncontrollable cough and more shortness of breath.


  • Don’t walk farther than you’re comfortably able to walk, especially in the cold air. If you’re riding with someone, ask if they can drop you off at the door. If you’re doing the driving, call ahead and ask your host if someone at the party can serve as a valet. Always have a cell phone when you venture away from home.
  • If you can’t shop for gifts online, ask somebody to shop with you or pick up a specific gift when they’re out doing their shopping.
  • If the party is at your house, involve your guests and assign tasks. Children, and even teens, are usually very willing to help – and be shown appreciation for doing so. It will enrich their lives to learn a little bit about your physical limitations and it will make them feel proud to know they’ve helped out.

Forgive and Live

  • If your COPD or other chronic lung disease was caused by smoking cigarettes, don’t beat yourself up about it. You’re not the only person at the party who may wish they had made different health choices. You’re doing the very best you can right now to be healthy, and if somebody can’t deal with it, that’s their problem.
  • Rushing around and hurrying is a huge problem for people with breathing problems. Allow for plenty of time to get ready so you’ll arrive when you want and have breath to spare.
  • Live in the moment. Don’t spend your energy worrying about tomorrow. All of us are promised only today, nothing more.

With a little planning – and some clever thinking – your patients with COPD and other chronic lung diseases can get out, participate in holiday events and enjoy the season with family and friends.

Our friends with chronic lung disease have a way of improvising and being very clever, and there is a lot of wisdom out there. The COPD Foundation’s online community, COPD 360social, is a great place to ask questions and share ideas! Enjoy the holidays!

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