On Oxygen & On The Go - Part 3: Oxygen and Anxiety
There are three things that bring on anxiety the most when going out with supplemental oxygen. They are: being new to wearing supplemental oxygen, running out of oxygen while on a past outing, or having a panic disorder. The first two can be dealt with and conquered, for those who have panic disorder, we recommend speaking with a professional about treatment. So you all know, there is a big difference between a COPD anxiety attack and having COPD and a panic disorder, but that's for another article.
If you have just been prescribed supplemental oxygen by your doctor, he has done this because your oxygen stats are low. Supplemental oxygen will bring your oxygen level back into a normal range so you will be able to get out and continue life as normally as possible. Some people have no trouble at all going out with oxygen, but a few of you dread it. As soon as you think about going out, the anxiety sets in, and with it the racing heart and fear of the unknown. To help you get over your anxiety first make sure you get used to wearing your new oxygen.
Take your time getting acquainted with oxygen
When you're ready to go on your first outing, start by taking baby steps. What I mean is go out for a very short period of time. Go out and just sit on your porch or yard to get a feel for what it's like to be outside with your oxygen. Make sure to take note of how long your oxygen tank will last. Walk around your yard that way you'll know how much better you breathe walking with supplemental oxygen than you did walking without it.
Have someone join you the first time you use it outside the home
Make sure the first time you go on an outing away from the house, have someone go with you. That way if anxiety starts, you needn't try rushing to the car making your anxiety worse. Instead stop, and try to relax with pursed-lip breathing. Whoever you have with you can go get the car bring it to the front of the store &a in a few minutes you'll be on your way home. Once back in the car do your purse-lip breathing till the anxiety passes. For those who suffer from anxiety when going out on oxygen, you have done it. Even if you did get a little anxiety while out, you got out and back home. Now knowing there is nothing to fear, on your next trip you won't feel so anxious.
If you're like most people after the first outing on supplemental oxygen you will look forward to going out more and more. You will realize that for the first time in years you can go shopping and walk to the front of the store without having to stop gasping for breath or you can go to a family birthday party instead of making an excuse why you can't go or leave early because you're afraid of becoming short of breath and getting embarrassed. So if you're a newbie to supplemental oxygen, I'd like to say congratulations, you have a big part of your life back. Take full advantage of it and get out of your house and do some of the things you have missed. Like golfing, bowling, or playing catch with the kids or grandkids, go for a walk, or bike ride. With supplemental oxygen all that is possible.
Traveling with anxiety and oxygen
When I first went on oxygen I went camping every weekend. My going for a hike in the woods with my grandchildren pulling my E tank behind me was a common activity. So was miniature golf or my sitting lake or pool side watching them swim. Sometimes, one of them would say "come in the water with us please, grandma please". So I would get in the water with them. I had to stay close to the side of the pool or edge of the lake where I parked my oxygen tank & my tubing would reach. It made the grandkids happy to have me in the water with them, even if I only throw a coin for them to dive for or had a little water fight, they loved when I splash them or turn my head away and scream when they splash me. That is something I could never do without the help of supplemental oxygen. My COPD is too advanced now to do any of those things, but supplemental oxygen gave me the ability to make some great memories. So get your oxygen on and get out and start living again, or you'll not only lose your freedom, but the chance to make some great memories.
Prepare in advance
For those of you who are anxious about going out on oxygen due to the fact you have experienced the fear that comes with running out of oxygen, don't let that stop you! What you need to do is prepare so it never happens again. If you are prepared for any and all reasons that you could run out of oxygen, there will be no reason for anxiety and you can have that part of your life back too. The key to not running out of oxygen is to make sure you have enough by planning ahead. I know that's not enough to stop your anxiety because the best made plans don't always work out as planned. For instance when you go out, having the proper amount of oxygen is only part of the reason you may not have enough. If you're going out on a shopping trip that might normally take you an hour could turn into 4-5 hours if your car breaks down. So even though you know you had enough oxygen for that shopping trip suddenly you no longer have enough oxygen. One misadventure, like a breakdown, causes such strong anxieties you will never venture out again.
Conquering the anxiety
To conquer your anxiety you need to be prepared for the unexpected. Sit down and write out a list of all the things that may happen while you're out that causes you so much anxiety that keeps you housebound. Then one by one takes steps to rectify that item and scratch it off the list. The day you have scratched off the last reason that's holding you in that house, you're ready to give going out another try. Just like I tell newbie, take baby steps to start your way back to as normal a life as you can have. When you're ready to go out for the first time, go over your list and make sure everything on it is done the way it should be. Then take a deep breath and with someone to bolster your confidence by your side, get out that door, get in the car, and do some shopping. For many of you, after everything goes as planned you'll have part of your life back. You may still get a little anxious at times, but you will be able to conquer your anxiety and never be housebound again.
In part 4 of this series I will tell you what I have learned and what I do to prepare for a day outing or a week's trip.
If you feel anxious: try to relax
For some it will be harder; if you start to feel anxious, stop take a deep breath and relax. If you're out and the anxiety makes you go back in, at least you took the first step. Next time you'll make it to the car, and one day you'll be on the road. With a little forethought and preparation your supplemental oxygen anxiety will become manageable. The main thing you must keep in mind is never stop trying. I bet you didn't know, but many experts believe that Abraham Lincoln suffered from severe anxiety. If Abe gave up, the U.S. as we know it would not exist. Instead of one country there would be two, the United States of America and the Confederate States of America. When that anxiety set in, always remember never give up, Abe, The Little Train That Could, and perseverance wins. Breathe deep and easy.
Interested in more articles like this? Check out the rest of the series!
On Oxygen and on the Go - Part 1: The Burden of Portable Oxygen
On Oxygen and on the Go - Part 2: Oxygen Embarrassment
On Oxygen and On the Go - Part 4: Let's Hit the Road
On Oxygen and on the Go - Part 5: Plane, Train, Bus, or Cruise
Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on March 2, 2018, Mary Ultes passed away. Mary was an engaged advocate for the COPD community who strived to help people live fulfilling lives. She is deeply missed.
How has your experience been navigating the healthcare system as someone with COPD?