Panic Attacks and COPD—Do They Relate?
First, you were diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or better known as COPD. That, in itself, was a scary moment. It felt like you couldn’t move. The idea of not being able to breathe is terrifying. It didn’t take long for the dangers associated with COPD to settle in. There were so many things you didn’t think you would ever be able to do again; you felt like you couldn’t live a normal life anymore. On top of that, you were scared to quit smoking, but you knew you had to. It was killing you, but it had been your vice for so long. You had always reasoned that one more cigarette, and you would be done, but we all know that didn’t happen. After all, look where you are now. All of these thoughts were swirling through your head; it was so overwhelming and it wouldn’t stop. All of a sudden you were having a full blown panic attack. You couldn’t breathe; your heart was going a mile a minute; your chest kept tightening; and pretty soon, you couldn’t see the world around you. You could’ve sworn that you were having a heart attack, but that wasn’t it. After what felt like eternity, your breathing went back to normal and you were able to stand on your own. It wasn’t a heart attack, but it still wasn’t normal. You were facing the reality that many people with individuals dealing with COPD have to—everything was not going to be okay.
As if living with COPD was not enough, many sufferers are forced to manage anxiety disorders and panic attacks. This is often terrifying because individuals with COPD already struggle to breath, and the sensation of your breathing intensifying and your heart racing can make life even scarier. Many people see panic attacks as something that you must inevitably deal with; they aren’t dangerous, just scary. This is most certainly not true.
Panic attacks are considerably dangerous for individuals with COPD because they can interfere with treatment and lung disease management. Individuals with both COPD and a panic disorder often have a lower quality of life, demonstrate more symptoms, require more treatment and end up in the hospital more often.
What Constitutes A Panic Attack?
When an individual begins to have a panic attack, there is a seemingly random explosion of fear. This fear is often completely unrelated to anything happening in a person’s life, and if it was prompted by something, the reaction far surpasses a typical reaction. Symptoms of panic attacks include, but are not limited to:
- A skipping or racing heartbeat
- Increased difficulty breathing
- Chest pain and chest tightness
- Cold sweats
- Trembling and shaking
- Inability to control body temperature
- Tingling in your extremities
These panic attacks are highly detrimental to many COPD treatments because the hyperventilation occurring during a panic attack creates rapid and shallow breathing. This ultimately reduces the ability of the lungs to process oxygen and worsens any COPD symptoms.
What Should You Do When You Have A Panic Attack?
When a panic attack strikes, it is essential that individuals have a plan of attack. Planning ahead and practicing what you will do in case of a panic attack can significantly lower the impact of a panic attack. Perhaps the two biggest methods of coping with a panic attack is to breathe and then accept the anxiety. Trying to fight off the fear won’t make you feel less anxious, but rather will further perpetuate the “fight or flight” feelings you are already having. The sooner you can recover from a panic attack, the better you, as an individual with COPD, will be able to breathe better.