Coping with the Emotional Impact of COPD

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2015. | Last updated: August 2017

What is the emotional impact of COPD?1,2

Living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can have a strong emotional impact on a person. It is very common for COPD patients to have a range of different emotions about their condition. Part of a pulmonary rehabilitation program for COPD is to provide support for patients in coping with their emotions.

A chronic disease such as COPD can affect many aspects of a person’s life. The symptoms of COPD can make it harder for patients to take part in activities that they enjoy, and they may feel isolated and alone. COPD patients also often feel breathless, which can be very frightening and cause anxiety.

There are many other common feelings that COPD patients have, including:

  • Depression and sadness
  • Anger
  • Grief
  • Regret
  • Guilt
  • Panic
  • Feeling out of control
  • Frustration
  • Feeling stressed
  • Anxiety

How can COPD patients cope with their emotions in a healthy way?1,2

It is important for patients to remember that all of these kinds of feelings are completely normal. It can take a long time to adjust to life with a chronic disease, and learning how to cope with emotions is an important part of that process.

COPD patients should keep in mind that they are not alone in their struggle with emotions. One of the first steps they can take is to talk about their emotions with someone else, such as:

  • Friends
  • Family
  • Caregivers
  • Healthcare providers

Most people will be eager to listen and help in any way they can. Joining a support group for people living with COPD can also be a great way to talk about these feelings in a safe and supportive setting. Many COPD patients find that hearing about the feelings of other people going through similar struggles can be comforting and encouraging. Individual and group counseling sessions can also help a COPD patient work through their emotions about the disease.

Regular exercise is another way for COPD patients to help improve their mood and feel better. Exercise improves COPD symptoms, which can improve emotional health as well. Other ways to help patients cope with their emotions include:

  • Relaxation techniques
  • Breathing strategies
  • Learning more about the disease and its treatments

Are there treatments that can help COPD patients cope with their emotions?2,3

Patients should let their healthcare providers know if they are finding it hard to cope with their emotions on a regular basis. Most COPD patients will find it hard to cope some of the time. But for some patients, feelings of depression or anxiety can become overwhelming and start to affect their lives all of the time.

Clinical depression and anxiety are very common among COPD patients. Healthcare providers or counselors can talk with patients to find out if they might benefit from medication to help manage their emotions. If so, patients may be prescribed anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications. When combined with therapy and counseling, these medicines can be very effective at helping COPD patients overcome their depression or anxiety.

What other resources are available to help COPD patients cope?

Healthcare providers and pulmonary rehabilitation programs can put patients in touch with local COPD support groups and counselors who are specially trained to help COPD patients. There are also telephone lines that can offer information, as well as many resources available online.

Telephone hotlines:

  • C.O.P.D. Information Line at 1-866-316-COPD (2673)
  • Lung HelpLine and Tobacco QuitLine: 1-800-LUNGUSA (586-4872)

Online support groups:

  • Lung Connection Community:
  • My Fighting for Air Community:
  • Better Breathers Clubs:
  • COPD International Chat Room:

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