Four Strategies for Coping When You Feel Overwhelmed by the Reality of COPD
There is no question. When you receive a diagnosis of COPD, it can be life-altering. When you start to truly experience the effects of your deteriorating respiratory system, it can become downright frightening. You may also experience other emotions such as anger, guilt, frustration, anxiety, and depression. This can all lead to feeling overwhelmed.
There is nothing wrong with feeling these emotions. When faced with major life changes, most of us tend to react with emotions. Which particular emotions you have may vary over time and you may or may not move through them all.
The important thing is learning how to cope effectively with the overwhelming and various emotions. This is key to staying on track with managing your disease and following your care plan. In that way, you’ll have a better chance of staying as healthy and stable as possible for as long as you can.
Here are some tips for coping when you feel overwhelmed by the daily reality of having COPD.
1. Learn all that you can about your disease and treatment plan.
You’ve probably heard the old adage, “Knowledge is power.” Nothing could be truer when it comes to dealing with a chronic illness. Do your research and ask questions, so that you can:
- Understand what COPD is and how it affects your breathing
- Evaluate your options for treatment in an informed manner with your healthcare team
- Carry out your treatment correctly
Patients have the right to ask questions of their healthcare team to gain understanding and knowledge. Don’t be shy and don’t be afraid to press for answers that you can understand. Sometimes healthcare people get caught up in their familiar medical jargon and forget that lay people may not understand all the terms.
You can also do your own research, but be careful where you get your information. On the internet, there are many sites that provide misleading and misinformed information. Your best bets for valid, credible information include:
- Websites like www.copd.net that are written and reviewed by healthcare professionals
- Books written by health care educators and/or professionals
- Websites provided by pharmaceutical companies and home medical equipment providers*
*Although this type of website will obviously be slanted toward their products, you can still gain some valuable information about COPD from them.
When we know what to expect, we are less likely to feel overwhelmed.
2. Advocate for yourself; it’s your body.
You are just as important a member of your healthcare team as your doctor or your respiratory therapist. While they have knowledge and experience you may not possess, you are the expert when it comes to how you feel, both physically and emotionally.
So, be proactive. Ask questions, share what you have learned through your research and feel free to suggest alternative treatment approaches. When your doctor prescribes something, make him/her take time to explain how and why it works.
Never be afraid to ask for help, whether from your doctor or from family and friends. If you are anxious or depressed, talk to your doctor. There may be medications or other therapies that can help.
All of these actions will help you feel more in control. When we feel in control, we are less likely to feel overwhelmed.
3. Take steps towards living a healthier lifestyle.
Following your COPD treatment plan so that you breathe better is important. But it’s also crucial not to lose sight of the importance of other aspects of your health. Here are some of the aspects of a healthy lifestyle you should pay attention to:
- Make healthy eating choices. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables; avoid prepared foods as much as possible. Reduce your sugar intake. Smaller meals may be easier to get through without causing breathing issues.
- If you still smoke, make a plan to quit. Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your health. If you quit soon enough, your lung function may improve quite a bit. In any event, quitting will prevent further immediate damage to your lungs.
- Stay active. Experts recommend that most people be active for 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. The 30 minutes don’t have to come all at once if your endurance is poor. Break them up into 5 or 10 minute segments throughout the day. And you don’t have to do calisthenics or other formal exercise. Even walking or gardening count.
- Get plenty of sleep. We all need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night to allow our bodies enough time to rest and recharge. People with COPD may also need to nap once or twice during the day.
- Manage your stress. Find ways to relax through meditation, restorative yoga, or deep breathing exercises. Even something as simple as listening to music you love or watching funny pet videos may help discharge some of the tension you may be feeling.
When you feel healthier overall, you are less likely to feel overwhelmed.
4. Don’t feel you have to go it alone.
COPD can be an isolating disease. Family and friends are sometimes judgmental, hinting that you brought this on yourself through years of smoking. They might stop visiting you as often, now that you are “sick.”
Or, your physical endurance may make it difficult for you to get out of the house on your own. You might find it cumbersome if you’re on oxygen to bring along the equipment.
All this can be very isolating. But you don’t have to go it alone. One of the best ways to cope with the isolation is to make the effort to connect with other people who have COPD. They’ll understand what you’re going through, in all likelihood, better than your family and friends do.
Currently, at least 16 million people in the U.S. have COPD1. Many more people probably have COPD, but have not yet been diagnosed. So there is no need for you to feel that you are alone. You have lots of company!
Reach out to other people in your community who have COPD or who are caring for someone with COPD. Chances are, you have neighbors, family members or friends who have experience in this area. Seek out local support groups for COPD sufferers, if you can. If none are available, then seek out support communities online by using Google to search for them.
When you feel less alone, you are less likely to feel overwhelmed.
So, there you have it… four fairly simple and straightforward strategies to cope when you are feeling overwhelmed by the day to day reality of having COPD. Try not to think of yourself as a victim of COPD. Instead, focus on what you can control and take steps towards the best quality of life possible.
How do you handle COPD’s emotional toll? Share with fellow community members here.
- COPD. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/copd