Stress is the body’s response to danger or challenges. In small doses, stress is actually a helpful, necessary part of life that motivates people to perform in high-pressure or even stay safe in a dangerous situation. While some stress is okay, long-lasting stress can cause health problems. Long-term, chronic stress can affect anybody’s body in negative ways, but it’s particularly dangerous for individuals with COPD. For COPD patients, stress:
- Weakens the immune system. High levels of stress weaken an already impaired immune system, putting COPD patients at risk for infections that will exacerbate symptoms.
- Causes shortness of breath. Stress drives up the heart rate, quickening your breathing, and forcing you to take short, quick breaths that only worsen the severity of shortness of breath COPDers experience.
- Prompts feelings of depression, anxiety, or irritation. COPD itself may be a major stressor in your life that triggers negative feelings. COPD forces you to change your life and raises worries about your and your family’s future.
If you have COPD and feel like chronic stress is a part of your life, it’s time to get it under control. Take steps to recognize and reduce your stressors and adapt your reactions for an overall better quality of life. Some stress management techniques to try include:
- Breathing exercises. Pursed-lip breathing is a breathing technique that can help ease shortness of breath for COPD patients by slowing the breathing rate. With slower, more intentional breathes, pursed-lip breathing gives you more control over your breathing. Relax your upper body and inhale through your nose for a count of two with your mouth closed. Pucker or purse your lips and exhale slowly through your lips to a count of four. Stay calm and relaxed, always breathing out longer than you breathe in.
- Exercise. Exercise can improve your breathing function, and is also a great form of stress relief. Yoga and tai chi are both low-impact forms of exercise that focus on strengthening the mind-body connection. Both yoga and tai chi incorporate breathing techniques into the poses that can help improve shortness of breath. Look into yoga and tai chi studios in your area to get started with some beginner classes.
- Join a COPD support group. Individuals with COPD meet regularly in support groups to share their thoughts and experiences in a judgement-free zone. Talking with other patients you can relate to can help reduce feelings of isolation and stress. Meeting in person of course is great, but if there isn’t one accessible to you, online support groups are available.
- Ease back into your favorite interests. Before COPD interrupted your life, did you have a favorite hobby or interest? If not, find one! Hobbies have stress-reduction power and can be a real source of happiness and enjoyment. Some ideas of hobbies to pick up:
- Read books from your favorite genre
- Take up knitting
- Write in a journal or online blog
- Scrapbook favorite memories
Letting chronic stress go unchecked increases your odds of experiencing flare-ups of your COPD. For a healthier, happier experience, try to incorporate stress relief techniques into your everyday life. There’s no such thing as a stress-free life, but with persistent effort, you can get your stress under control, and as a result improve your COPD symptoms.
If you or a loved one has COPD and would like to learn about our clinical research opportunities, please fill out the form below and you’ll be contacted by a member of our team with more information.