People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) often experience anxiety in combination with their COPD symptoms. Many people feel the worst COPD and anxiety symptoms when they have increased shortness of breath. It’s completely understandable to feel very afraid when you feel like you just can’t catch your breath. When these symptoms occur, the normal reaction is to tense up, feel nervous and feel overwhelmed. Unfortunately, we hear stories like this more often than we’d like, as many people with COPD also experience anxiety as a result.
How Are COPD and Anxiety Connected?
In fact, about 75 percent of people with COPD are thought to also struggle with anxiety. When you’re feeling short of breath or are experiencing trouble breathing, it can be stressful. This can trap you in an unending cycle, with breathlessness leading to anxiety, anxiety leading to more breathlessness, and more breathlessness creating even more anxiety. There’s no doubt about it – COPD and anxiety go hand in hand. But you don’t have to stay stuck in this loop.
You are not doomed to suffer from anxiety just because you have COPD. In fact, there are several things that you can do to help reduce your anxiety. Let’s take a look at the 5 best relaxation tips for reducing COPD and anxiety.
Breathing exercises are so important for keeping your lung muscles strong. When you have trouble breathing, it’s only natural to try to avoid activities that make you feel breathless. As a result, you do fewer activities, resulting in weaker muscles. This, in turn, makes you even more breathless, leaving you feeling more depressed and anxious. The cycle is a tough one to escape. Let’s take a look at how breathing exercises can help you combat this by keeping your lung muscles in shape.
Pursed Lips Breathing
You can do pursed lips breathing in three easy steps:
- Breathe in through your nose for two seconds.
- Pucker your lips like you’re getting ready to blow out a candle.
- Breathe out very slowly through pursed lips for about four to six seconds.
The benefits of pursed lips breathing are many, including slowed breathing, airways remain open longer, expelling stale and trapped air, reduction in the work it takes to breathe, increased lung capacity and improvement in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Belly breathing is done either while sitting or lying down. The important thing is that you’re in a comfortable position where you feel relaxed. Here are the steps:
- Relax your shoulders.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other over your belly.
- Inhale through your nose for three seconds.
- Expand your belly as you breathe in. Your belly should move more than your chest.
- Breathe out slowly through pursed lips, and gently press on your belly. This will push up on your diaphragm, helping the air escape through your lips.
This exercise helps train your diaphragm to take over more of the work of breathing, lessening the reliance upon other parts of your body to breathe.
Counseling & Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy can be very helpful for people who suffer from COPD and anxiety. It can help turn negative thoughts around, resulting in more positive habits and patterns that lead to a happier, healthier life.
Group counseling is also a great way to reduce anxiety. There are support groups for people with COPD and anxiety. Sometimes just sharing your story and having others around who are going through the same thing can be extremely therapeutic. Ask your doctor or conduct an online search for a group therapy class in your area.
Some people with COPD find that having a four-legged furry friend around helps bring joy to their lives, resulting in reduced anxiety and stress. Pet therapy can help people with COPD because animals provide companionship, structure and have the potential to make you more physically active. Before adding a pet to your home, however, be sure to weigh the pros and cons. For some people, pet fur and/or the physical requirements of having a pet are too much. Be sure to fully analyze your situation before deciding to get a pet, and talk with your doctor.
Another option is to visit a friend who owns pets. Being around others, whether pets or people, is a great way to get outside of your thoughts, potentially reducing anxious feelings about your breathing and COPD symptoms.
Visualization is a powerful technique that can pull you out of an anxious moment. It is the act of imagining yourself in a peaceful and relaxing environment – a place that makes you feel happy. Maybe you picture yourself sitting on a mountaintop or next to a river. It doesn’t matter what it is; what matters is that it brings a smile to your face when you think about being there. Visualization might feel a little bit silly at first. That’s ok. Keep picturing yourself in your relaxing environment, and really imagine what it feels like to be there. Once you do this long enough, the good feelings that you experience will outweigh the anxious ones, and you won’t feel silly about that at all.
There are three important steps to consider when using visualization to combat COPD and anxiety:
- Choose a safe place. Before starting your visualization practice, choose a place where you won’t be interrupted or won’t feel silly sitting there with your eyes closed. It’s important to be able to focus on achieving relaxation.
- Practice, practice, practice! As with everything, it takes consistent effort and practice to achieve success. Don’t give up if you don’t feel relief the very first time you try visualization. These things take time. Keep coming back to your visualization practice, and eventually, it will feel more natural and become more effective.
- Use all of your senses. Fully immerse yourself into the visualization. What does this place feel like? How does it smell? What do you hear? Perhaps, you’re sitting next to a running river in the springtime and can smell freshly blossomed flowers while birds sing in trees overhead. A light breeze moves across your skin. Fully experiencing the peaceful moment makes your visualization practice much more effective.
Recognize Your Fears
Anxiety from COPD is a result of feeling scared about being unable to breathe. Sometimes shying away from those fears can make them even worse, causing more anxiety. Take an inventory of your fears and evaluate them head on. Are they based on actual events or simply things that you think might happen? How realistic is the possibility of one of these fears actually coming true?
Reduce the likelihood of having an issue. Some of your fears may be the result of negative experiences you’ve had in the past. But the past doesn’t have to repeat itself. Once you have clearly identified your fears, you can then come up with an action plan on how to avoid issues in the future. Develop a plan of action to set yourself up for success. A key to success here is only tackling one issue at a time. Be patient with yourself, let yourself make mistakes and understand that you’re doing the best job that you can.
Managing COPD and anxiety is possible, and you can help yourself have a better daily life with these tips.
If you’re interested in learning about more ways to potentially reduce COPD symptoms, stem cell therapy might be an avenue that you’d like to explore. The Lung Institute provides free consultations for people with COPD and other chronic lung diseases. Contact us at (800) 729-3065 today to set up your free consultation.