Managing COPD Panic Attacks and Anxiety: What You Can Do

by | Jul 18, 2017 | COPD, Disease Education, Tips

Panic attacks are symptoms of severe anxiety that can feel completely overwhelming. They are common among people with COPD. In fact, doctors estimate that people with COPD are 10 times more likely to experience a panic attack than those without the condition.

COPD patients who experience regular panic attacks report more pulmonary disease symptoms, have a lower quality of life, require more medical treatments and are hospitalized more frequently.

Managing COPD panic attacks and anxiety is key to improving overall quality of life. The steps to managing panic attacks involve learning as much as you can about them, understanding symptoms and triggers and enlisting those around you for emotional support.

Understanding COPD and Panic Attacks

Managing COPD Panic Attacks and Anxiety: What You Can Do A panic attack might be brought on by fear of not being able to breathe. While panic attacks are a mental condition, the symptoms are almost completely physical. Symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Racing heart
  • Chest pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Cold sweats
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sudden chills or hot flashes
  • Tingling
  • Extreme fear

“All I feel is an intense amount of pain all over, like something is just squeezing me into this little ball.”

“It feels like a terrorist attack or being chased by dinosaurs — yet while you want to run for your life, you can’t.”

“I feel like ice is running through my veins.”

These are just a few ways that people describe what having a panic attack physically feels like. What does it feel like for you? Try writing down how it makes you feel. Articulating what you’re experiencing can help you feel like you have a better grasp on what’s happening.

Managing COPD Panic Attacks and Anxiety

Once you have a solid understanding of the symptoms, it’s important to have a plan in place to help manage them. Researchers have discovered that the best treatment for panic attacks is cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which the patient understands the physical signals that indicate the oncoming of a panic attack. When you recognize early signals, you can have a plan in place to stave off the panic attack.

Here are some tricks that can help prevent a panic attack:

  • Separation: When you feel a panic attack coming on, tell yourself that this is a mental overreaction to a situation that truly isn’t dangerous. Try to separate your thoughts from your emotions and choose to not engage with fearful thoughts. Remind yourself that this situation is temporary, and imagine yourself as a person looking at your emotions rather than being one with them. This separation from your emotions is a powerful mindfulness technique that can prevent you from becoming a victim of your emotions.
  • Distract Yourself: Try breathing exercises, counting, squeezing different muscles in your body or watching a funny video on YouTube. Try anything that effectively takes your focus away from the fear. Distraction can be a powerful tool in avoiding panic attacks and anxiety.
  • Reframing: Accept the anxiety, and pay attention to the levels of fear that you’re experiencing on a scale from 1 to 10. You might notice that the most severe feelings of fear actually pass quickly. Rather than trying to fight the anxiety by telling yourself to calm down, which often backfires, think about the anxiety as a wave that you are riding. You might even consider channeling the anxious feelings into feelings of excitement. Reframing means changing your perspective of what’s happening, and can be a powerful tool in managing the mental piece of a panic attack.

The Importance of Emotional Support

Many COPD patients who experience frequent panic attacks find relief from support groups. There are online support groups for anxiety or depression, such as, or you can also find a local support group in your area if you’d prefer to meet with people face to face.

You should also talk to your friends and family about the panic attacks, and let them know how they can help you. Sometimes just sharing your experience and fear with another person can alleviate some of the stress and anxiety over having a panic attack.

How do you manage COPD panic attacks and anxiety? Please comment below and share with other readers what has worked well for you.

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