As if it wasn’t enough that you have COPD, here’s another thing to deal with: an extra level of stress. Yes, everyone deals with stress, but COPD patients run a three-fold risk, compared to the general population, of developing generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Why? Because COPD can cause breathlessness, fatigue, or the development of a lung infection, and even without these events, the “regular” symptoms of COPD can flare up at any time. It only stands to reason that anxiety will rise with the prospect of any or all of these events hanging over your head.
Here are six stress management techniques that specifically address the effects of stress on the COPD patient:
1) Block the Circular Breathlessness-Anxiety Cycle
When you have COPD, even a hint of breathlessness can raise your anxiety level through the roof, which can cause you to increase your breathing rate, which can cause or exacerbate shortness of breath, which can cause you to feel even more anxious… and on it goes. Fear of this cycle can cause you to avoid activities that you used to enjoy, which, unfortunately, contributes to a continuing decline in health. Here are some things you can do to break the anxiety cycle:
- Tell yourself that you can still do what you’ve always enjoyed; you just have to be ready to take necessary steps if you start feeling breathless.
- Always carry your inhaler with you and tell yourself that it’s available to you for just these situations.
- If you start to feel short of breath, stop what you’re doing and acknowledge that you’re feeling breathless, and remind yourself that you have techniques to deal with it.
- Use your inhaler if warranted.
- Practice a calming ritual: counting to 10, pursed lip breathing, a few moments of meditation.
- Tell yourself that you’re doing what you know will help your breathlessness and you will be able to resume your activity shortly.
2) Get A Pet
You might think that bringing a pet into your life when you’re dealing with the challenges of COPD is not exactly a good idea (and, yes, some people are allergic to certain kinds of pets), but think again. Here are the very real and direct health benefits of owning a pet:
- Pets provide you with opportunities and, sometimes, increased ease in social interaction.
- A companionable pet can boost your feelings about your quality of life.
- Pet interactions can temporarily reduce blood pressure.
- Living with a pet can go a long way toward curing feelings of loneliness.
- Pets can help distract you from pain or COPD related symptoms.
- A pet makes a wonderful – and willing – exercise partner.
3) Take Up Yoga
Yoga can reduce your stress in a number of ways:
- Yoga is all about breathing. A yoga session starts with a mindfulness practice directed at breathing, and all during a yoga session breathing is an integral part of performing the poses and movements properly.
- Any age is the right age to practice yoga. And, there are many levels and styles of yoga practice; you can choose the one that’s right for you and that won’t put undue stress on your lungs.
- Yoga improves balance, range of motion, and energy levels; all of which can lower anxiety, reduce pain, and increase your overall feeling of well-being.
- Yoga is meditative by nature; when you practice yoga, you enter into a calmer state, and when you’re finished with a practice, that feeling of calm can carry into your day.
- Yoga provides better physical conditioning than you might realize; it strengthens muscles and bones, and aids in circulation; all effects that can make your breathing more comfortable and efficient.
We’ve talked many times in this blog about the beneficial effects of exercise for COPD patients; here are the ways in which exercise acts specifically to reduce anxiety:
When you exercise, your brain produces serotonin, the “feel good” endorphin that makes you feel happier and more satisfied. Exercise also strengthens your respiratory muscles, which can reduce your shortness-of-breath episodes, and it can improve your sleep and reduce fatigue, contributing to a stronger sense of health and well-being. Exercise also helps you manage your weight, which means you’ll feel better physically, you’ll feel better about yourself, and you won’t be as likely to become short of breath when exercising or performing everyday tasks.
5) Do The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise
We’ve talked before about pursed-lip breathing, which is always a good technique to have on hand. Here, in addition, is a deep breathing exercise you can practice to stave off anxiety attacks:
- Start with a straight back.
- Take a breath and exhale fully, making a whooshing sound.
- Now keep your mouth closed while you slowly and silently inhale through your nose for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath and count to 7.
- Exhale completely with slightly pursed lips for a count of 8, making a whooshing sound.
- Inhale slowly again for 4 seconds, hold for 7, and exhale for 8 seconds making a whooshing sound.
- Repeat the cycle of steps again until you’ve done 4 cycles.
Dr. Andrew Weil recommends doing this twice a day and building up to 8 cycles, twice a day. Here’s a video of Dr. Weil demonstrating the 4-7-8 breathing exercise:
6) Eat A More Nutrient-Rich Diet
When we’re stressed, don’t feel well, or are tired, it’s easy to fall further in to old eating habits that are not good for us; snacking on highly processed foods, eating sugar-rich treats, or just choosing the food that’s quickest and easiest to prepare and consume.
Instead, try to consciously plan your meals and snacks to emphasize foods that are natural and rich in a variety of nutrients. Less processed foods are less likely to cause weight gain and inflammation, and will contribute to an enhanced sense of well-being overall.
Remember that high-sugar and empty-calorie foods will drain your daily energy levels, which can only add to chronic stress.
Add more fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish, whole grains, nuts, and dairy products into your diet to improve your health and sense of well being and reduce stress.
Information for this article was obtained from 1st Class Medical.