It is no secret that anxiety goes hand in hand with COPD as symptoms worsen. Once the shortness of breath, or dyspnea, becomes severe enough to cause fear, dealing with anxiety may not be far behind. It is not something that anyone wants in his/her life, but sometimes it is just the reality of the situation.
The Circle of Anxiety
The hard part of anxiety is breaking the circle. Let’s say that you have an episode of shortness of breath. Then you have a fear of not being able to breathe, all while you are trying to catch your breath. This creates physical anxiety symptoms. These panic attacks can include symptoms that work directly against your efforts to calm down and breathe. They might include: weakness, dizziness, chest pain, nausea, a pounding or racing heart, or breathing problems.1 Did you see that? Breathing problems... Well that’s why you feel the panic in the first place, isn’t it? It is this circle that needs to be broken, and as your COPD worsens, you will need to find a way that works for you to control it.
The big question is: how do you avoid panic when you're dealing with severe COPD?
I think that the real answer is that avoiding it completely is extremely difficult. However, you can learn to manage it. It is difficult, but you must learn to take control of your fear as much as possible so that you can get your breathing under control.
Here are a few ways to manage the anxiety.
- Talk to your doctor. You may be thinking, “Where are the steps to teach me how to control this on my own?” Well, there are a few suggestions coming up, but I would be leaving out one of your biggest allies if I left your doctor out of this very delicate situation. There are things going on in your body, caused by anxiety, that your doctor needs to know about. Think about this. If the anxiety is causing more shortness of breath, wouldn’t it stand to reason that your doctor may be able to help you alleviate the anxiety, and in turn, help you to breathe a little better? I know that there is a stigma associated with the medications for anxiety, but if they can help you, now is the time to talk to your doctor.
- Learn to think differently. You may need to be reminded during severe dyspnea that it will pass. The vast majority of the time, your circle of anxiety and shortness of breath makes the situation much worse. Don’t let your mind take over and drag you deeper into fear. Instead you need to take control of your mind and see yourself breathing. Maybe seeing yourself breathe the way you used to is too much of a stretch. If that is the case, fix your mind on the best breathing day you’ve had recently and make that your goal.
- Help your caregiver understand the importance of remaining calm. The atmosphere of a room can change the situation. If the room is overly stressful, your anxiety will only increase. While you are dealing with severe shortness of breath, there needs to be complete calm in the room. If hearing the sound of the ocean, birds chirping or your favorite song brings you peace, your caregiver needs to know. Empower your caregiver with the ability to help you by communicating with him/her ahead of time about your needs.
Anxiety is nothing to ignore
...especially as you are dealing with chronic illness. With the type of shortness of breath that you experience, it is completely understandable that fear would be a big part of your life. However, it is not a free pass to quit or a time for you to hide what you are going through. You need to know that you are not alone in this. Talk with your doctor and talk with your loved ones. They want to understand you, and it will take your words to make that happen.
Do you live with any sleep disorders (eg. insomnia, RLS, sleep apnea) in addition to COPD?