Coping With the Emotional Impact of COPD

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2024 | Last updated: March 2024

Living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can have a strong emotional impact on a person. COPD not only affects the lungs but also the mental and emotional well-being of those who have it. It is very common for people living with COPD to have different emotions about their condition.1-3

How COPD affects mental and emotional health

COPD is an ongoing (chronic) health condition that can stir up a range of emotions. The gradual progression of the disease and the limitations it can create can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, frustration, and isolation.1-3

Clinical depression and anxiety are more common among people with COPD than they are in the general population. Sadly, less than one-third of people with COPD and a mental health issue get treatment for their mental health.2

Common feelings people with COPD experience

People with COPD express living with a range of emotions, including:

Anxiety and panic

Anxiety and panic are 10 times more common in people with COPD than in people without it. The fear of breathlessness or flare-ups can trigger anxiety and panic attacks. A panic attack is when you suddenly have an episode of intense fear and anxiety, making it hard to breathe. This creates a vicious cycle where your COPD and anxiety fuel each other.1,2


The chronic nature of COPD and the changes it brings can make you feel sad and down. This is very common. When these feelings last longer than a couple of weeks, or if they interfere with your life (job, relationships, no longer finding joy in activities you once enjoyed), you could have clinical depression. Tell your doctor about these symptoms.1-3

Sense of loss

Many people with COPD have to face their symptoms on a daily basis. This can bring on a sense of loss. For example, you may miss the life you led and the activities you used to do before your diagnosis.3


Managing daily tasks may become more of a challenge with COPD. You may need to rely on others more than before. This can lead to frustration and irritability.3


COPD can limit physical activity and participation in social activities, making a person more likely to stay at home or choose not to be around others.3

Other challenging emotions can result from living with COPD, like:1,3

  • Guilt
  • Hopelessness
  • Overwhelm
  • Stress

Coping with difficult emotions in a healthy way

Acknowledging and addressing these difficult emotions is a crucial first step toward improving your mental health. Research shows that when you take care of your emotional health, you:1

  • Are more likely to stick with your COPD treatment plan
  • Improve your physical health
  • Reduce healthcare costs

Here are some healthy ways you can cope with the emotional toll of COPD:


Share your feelings with loved ones, friends, doctors, or a support group. Talking about your experiences and what you are feeling can help with the emotional burden of a chronic illness.1,3

Take care of yourself

Living with anxiety and depression can make it harder to take care of yourself. You have less energy to exercise, eat well, or follow your treatment plan. It also impacts your sleep. Plus, depression can make COPD flare-ups more common. And people with COPD who are depressed may have to go to the hospital more often.3

This is why it is even more important to prioritize self-care by eating well, getting enough sleep, staying active, and connecting with loved ones. All these things can make a big impact on both your physical and emotional well-being.1,3

Practice mindfulness or relaxation

Mindfulness practices like meditation, breathing exercises, or journaling can help manage stress and anxiety.1,3

Engage in hobbies

Pursue activities that bring joy and fulfillment. You may have to adapt them to your current capabilities, but having this creative outlet can help with your mood. Hobbies can also be a way to connect with other people.3

Try to stay active

It may seem unwise for someone who has shortness of breath to exercise. But becoming less active can actually make COPD symptoms worse.1

Staying active has been shown to help strengthen the lungs, boost mood, and reduce depression and anxiety. You may have to modify certain exercises, but try to do what you can. Talk with your doctor about exercise suggestions.1,3

Treatment options for emotional well-being

Most people with COPD will find it hard to cope some of the time. But for some, feelings of depression or anxiety can become so overwhelming that they start to interfere with their daily life. This is where mental health treatments come into play.1

Talk therapy can be very effective in helping people with COPD manage their anxiety and depression. Mental health professionals, including psychologists and counselors, can provide coping strategies, emotional support, and ways to reframe negative thought patterns.1

You may also want to consider certain medicines to help you cope. Your doctor or a mental health professional can work with you to find out if medicine is the right option for you. If so, you may be prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety medicines. When combined with therapy and counseling, these medicines can be very effective at helping people with COPD overcome their depression or anxiety.1

Available support resources

There are many resources available for those with COPD who are having a hard time coping. Doctors and pulmonary rehabilitation programs can put you in touch with local COPD support groups and specially trained counselors.1,4

Here are a few of the resources that are out there:

Telephone hotlines

Get help directly from your phone. Call the Lung HelpLine and Tobacco QuitLine at 1-800-LUNG-USA (586-4872).1

If you or a loved one are having thoughts or feelings of harming yourself, please consider contacting the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline anytime by calling or texting 988.3

Support groups

Joining COPD support groups – either in-person or online – can provide a sense of community and understanding. Sharing experiences with others facing similar health challenges can be very comforting and can help you feel less alone.1

The American Lung Association can help you connect to a Better Breathers Club near you.1

Nonprofits and patient advocacy organizations

Organizations such as the COPD Foundation and the American Lung Association offer resources, educational materials, and access to support networks for those with COPD and their families. Check them out by clicking the links below:3,4

Remember, it is normal to struggle emotionally when you are living with COPD. But you do not have to go through this alone. Seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness. If you are struggling emotionally, reach out to your doctor. Help is available.1,4

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