A woman is surrounded by dark swirling clouds, but is still able to look up and see light shining down on her.

COPD Anxiety and Fear

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, anxiety is defined as: medical: an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one's capacity to cope with it.

Before my COPD became severe, I had little anxiety. I coped with life very well, handled problems as they arose, and thought little about it. Then came the major hospitalization, full-time oxygen, and my anxiety went through the roof. Not only was it new to me, but for my loved ones as well. The first time my husband tried to leave me alone so he could go to work, I told him he couldn’t. I was filled with panic. He was filled with confusion. This was something new from his independent wife.

Is it real or imagined?

Even now, seven years later, I don’t always understand what sets off my anxiety. The fear seems rational and very real. Is it? I know what to do when I get short of breath. I’ve been taught the correct breathing techniques. I know about pursed-lip breathing and use it daily. So why do I get so anxious about leaving my home? I know how many steps to the car. We go to the same restaurant weekly for lunch and the same stores for shopping. Yet each time I have to sit quietly, breathe slowly, and tell myself everything is fine before going out.
Showers are another issue, as it is for most with COPD. It fills me with such dread ahead of time. It is a task that has become easier over time. Exercising has made it easier. If I allow myself to think about it, I feel the anxiety rising up through my body. What I have learned is to just do it. Don’t think about it, just get in and turn the water on.

Forget the gloom and doom

Much of the anxiety with me is overthinking. I’m sure it is with most of us. We live with shortness of breath daily. We create a comfortable bubble for ourselves that our lungs can deal with. Anything outside that bubble causes a panic reaction, which in turn causes more shortness of breath.

I have had to learn to stop thinking ahead. It is what causes anxiety for me. Stop creating scenarios that may happen. What if I get short of breath in front of a bunch of strangers? What if I don’t know where the bathroom is? What if I have a coughing fit? The list goes on of everything that could possibly go wrong. Most of the situations that I make up in my head, I have already experienced and handled without any problems.

I am learning not to overthink. It isn’t always easy and will be a work in progress for a long time, maybe always. It is getting easier. Most days, that is. I am trying to be in this moment and not think ahead. That is when I get into trouble with anxiety. Thinking ahead to be prepared is good practice, but not dwelling on what could go wrong. Isn’t it better to concentrate on what could go right?

Let’s talk about it

What anxieties or fears do you have? How well do you cope? Do you have any coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety? I look forward to hearing all of your comments!

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Editor's Note: We are heartbroken to share that Carol passed away in February of 2022. Carol's storytelling and advocacy will be deeply missed, but her legacy lives on through her articles and in all the people she inspired.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The COPD.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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