Many people who suffer from COPD also struggle with anxiety. When you have trouble breathing your brain triggers a response to warn you that something is wrong which can cause panic and sensations of anxiety. Also people find they suffer anxiety due to worrying and being stressed about the condition and prognosis as the disease worsens as well as being linked to depression which many COPD patient’s suffer from. Medications used to treat COPD can also trigger anxiety too.
The Breathlessness-Anxiety Cycle
It is often a vicious cycle where feeling breathless can cause panic and anxiety, which in turn makes it more difficult to breathe. This cycle can be difficult to break and the symptoms of COPD become indistinguishable from the symptoms of anxiety. Many are confused and make lots of trips to the doctors. Many people avoid enjoying social and leisure activities that can cause breathlessness out of fear from potentially experiencing anxiety that may be caused.
Having some degree of anxiety when you have a chronic disease can be a good thing. It can make you pay attention to your symptoms and follow your treatment plan. It can also warn you when you need to seek medical attention, but too much anxiety can severely impact the quality of your life.
Coping With Anxiety
Coping with anxiety can be tricky especially as many medications have a negative impact on your health if you are suffering with COPD as they can cause decreased rate of breathing and interact with other COPD medications.
Your doctor can help you to determine what medication will work best for you. Some people with COPD find relief with non-addictive anti-anxiety medications which don’t interfere with breathing.
Medications are helpful but their effectiveness will be increased by other means of reducing anxiety. Ask your doctor about referral to a pulmonary rehabilitation program, where you will receive education about COPD and get help with coping strategies to deal with your anxiety. One of the most important things that you learn in pulmonary rehabilitation is how to breathe more effectively.
Breathing techniques such as “pursed lip breathing” can help to take the work out of breathing, slow your breathing down, keep your airway open for longer—and help you to relax. To do pursed lip breathing, you simply relax your upper body, and then breathe in slowly through your nose to the count of two. Then with lips pursed as if you were going to whistle, you breathe out slowly through your mouth to the count of four.
Many people with COPD find that individual counselling is effective in reducing anxiety. One common type of therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy helps people with anxiety symptoms decrease them through learning relaxation techniques and breathing exercises.
Group counselling, such as support groups can also help you to learn how to cope with COPD – and your anxiety – and being with others who have some of the same problems can help you to feel less alone.
Many find that if they are in the breathlessness/anxiety cycle then by immediately treating the breathlessness can instantly lessen the feelings of anxiety. By having a portable oxygen concentrator you have access to your oxygen wherever you are, whatever you’re doing and if needed can use it when you are feeling short of breath. Knowing that you have the portable concentrator to hand can also in itself reduce your anxiety levels and help prevent episodes as you have that security and peace of mind that if your anxiety or COPD symptoms suddenly flare up that you have something close to hand to instantly resolve it.