To further complicate matters, this stress can make your COPD symptoms worse, says Daniel F. Dilling, MD, a pulmonary and critical care specialist at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago.
COPD Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
A study published in the journal Multidisciplinary Respiratory Medicine reports that anxiety and depression are common in people with COPD. Examining data from 60 study participants with COPD, the researchers found that anxiety was present in 41.7 percent of them and depression in 46.7 percent. They also found that depression and anxiety increase as COPD progresses and that both conditions are closely linked to shortness of breath and inability to exercise.
Another study looked at the stress of physical and mental fatigue in COPD. Published in theInternational Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease it involved 42 people with COPD who were participating in a pulmonary rehabilitation program. About 95 percent of them reported physical fatigue, 70 percent reported mental fatigue, 43 percent reported anxiety, and 21 percent reported depression.
“Stress, anxiety, and depression are all common with COPD,” notes Jessica Bon, MD, a pulmonary specialist and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. “Shortness of breath can make normal stress much worse and can even lead to panic attacks.”
COPD Stress: Tips for Stress Management
Even without COPD, stress is part of life. Start by identifying all the stressors in your life and see which ones you can reduce or avoid. Maybe you need to work on relationships or money problems, or do a better job of pacing yourself and setting priorities.
Specific COPD stress management tips to help you cope include:
- Try relaxation techniques to diffuse stress. This could involve meditation, deep breathing, guided muscle relaxation, or any activity that helps you let go of stress.
- Get more exercise. Exercise is a proven way to reduce stress. Even gentle activities that don’t affect your breathing are beneficial. “Many people with COPD benefit from an exercise like yoga that combines movement with focused breathing,” says Dr. Bon.
- Get restful sleep. Sleeping well is often a problem for people with COPD. Developing good sleep habits can help: Keep to a sleep schedule, resist napping, avoid caffeine and exercising later in the day, and limit your bedroom to sleeping and no work or late-night TV watching.
- Make your diet more nutritious. Foods high in sugar and empty calories, caffeine, and alcohol can drain your energy and add to your stress. Of course, don’t smoke and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Learn COPD breathing exercises. These specialized breathing exercises can help reduce stress and any fear of being short of breath.
- Ask your doctor for help. When stress leads to depression or anxiety that makes your COPD worse, your doctor can recommend a mental health counselor to work through emotional issues with you. “Medications may also be helpful at times,” says Bon. “Antidepressants called SSRIs have been found to be helpful for COPD depression.”
- Have a good support system. Sometimes you will need assistance with daily living. Ask your friends and loved ones to become part of your support system. Let them help you lighten your load. Bon says that “joining a COPD support group is another good way to reduce stress.”
One final tip is to get yourself into a good pulmonary rehabilitation program. “The most important thing for COPD and stress reduction is education, support, counseling, and exercise,” advises Dr. Drilling. “You can get all that in pulmonary rehabilitation. It is the number one thing you can do for COPD.”
Stress is part of life for everybody, however COPD stress can be more constant and more dangerous than other forms of stress since it can also complicate the condition . The combination of unmanaged stress and COPD can make your COPD symptoms worse and can lead to fear, panic, anxiety, and depression. If stress is making your COPD worse, and you can’t manage it on your own, work with your doctor on a stress relief plan.