Don't Stress It – Just Breathe
The heart and lungs work so closely together it is easy to get breathless through stress, not pacing, a panic attack, or any other number of reasons. If the heart beats fast, we become more breathless as the brain sends a signal to our lungs to breathe faster in the demand for more oxygen. But when our lung capacity is challenged, often our lungs are too weakened to offer more. So we become more breathless. Or it could be we don't pace ourselves. Instead of attempting to rush to do a task, be it a trip to the store or another reason. For this, the lungs have to work harder to try to supply more oxygen which again our lungs are unable to give. In turn, our brain has sent a signal to our heart to beat faster to push the blood around quicker to supply yet more oxygen to our organs and muscles, which makes us even more breathless - while in some cases, mine included, we'll see blood oxygen levels plummet.
Do you remember when you were a kid? You rushed. Or got excited about something. Then got breathless at times in anticipation. Of course in those days you, like me, had better lung capacity, so could deal with it. Those were the days, weren't they?
Now if it rains and I don't have an umbrella there is no chance of rushing to the car or shelter. If I want the bathroom again, I am still going to be at my snail's pace. If I attempt to rush to do an errand I instantly become more breathless. Even with the use of oxygen. This can and has forced me to a complete stop at times.
The effect of stress
Stress has caused my resting heartbeat to rise, making me more breathless. And, if you are at stage 3 or above, probably you too. I have learned to deal with problems caused by pacing and stress. And if wise, you will too.
To survive the upper stages of COPD we have to learn to pace ourselves, plan all trips, chill and relax. Most of all to refuse to be rushed. Take your time in all things. Live life in the slow lane. After all, for us life is not a race anymore. You will be amazed at what a major difference it will make to your life if you follow that advice. Yes, you will do things slower. But because you will be able to last longer you will, in the end, do more while feeling better for it.
If you use oxygen when mobile, use a trolley (cart). That saves energy and makes for easier breathing. If you are going out to a strange area, plan. I use Google Earth to plan my trips often. Even knowing the area before I arrive. But most of all, refuse to ever be rushed. For any reason.
Pacing myself better
Because we have COPD and our lung capacity is poor we have a faster heartbeat than would otherwise be the case.
It is not uncommon for our heartbeat to rise above 100. So I took up a challenge. Could I de-stress enough to lower my usual resting heart rate - and would it make me feel less breathless? To do this I wore a band on my wrist that read my heartbeat 24/7. The readings were stored on the device and downloaded to my computer each morning, and made for amazing reading. Peaks were many at the start and troughs few. Even sleeping I seemed to have a high heartbeat rate. So my experiment in refusing to rush for anything at all, begun.
The result has been an eye-opener. I have slowed down by pacing myself better. I proudly admit I now live life in the slow lane. I have learned to relax more. Sometimes by just 'letting go'. Emptying my mind of any thoughts that might make me feel stressed. This two-month experiment has led to better and longer sleep. A lower heart rate. Less feeling of breathlessness when active. Heart rate spikes fewer, and troughs more.
Something to try
A breathing exercise you may like to try to help relax is to inhale slowly to the count of four. Hold for the count of two if you can, don't worry too much if you cannot, then with pursed lips slowly exhale to the count of six. This in itself will help to oxygenate you and will lower your heart rate. (Editor's note: Please consult your doctor regarding breathing strategies.)
Until my next article keep that smile and most of all, breathe easy.
Do you live with any sleep disorders (eg. insomnia, RLS, sleep apnea) in addition to COPD?