You are more than your COPD

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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is a lung disease that can affect every part of your life. In fact, it affects the daily lives of an estimated 2.6 million Canadians aged 35-79. As the disease progresses and affects physical ability, it’s common to feel anxious, burdened and discouraged from doing activities that you once enjoyed. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right approach, you can overcome and prevent these limitations. Here are just a few tips to help you live well with COPD.

Fighting the stigma

Many people focus on the physical limitations that can occur with COPD, but they overlook the emotional toll that can come along with it. Having COPD is not your fault, and it’s important to remember that despite the condition, you are still the same person as you always were, with the same hopes, fears, dreams and desires. By learning how to manage any feelings of stress, anxiety or guilt that you may experience, you can enjoy life with COPD and still be yourself.

Managing stress and anxiety

The main symptom of COPD is shortness of breath, which comes hand in hand with anxiety. Shortness of breath can make you feel more anxious, and feeling anxious can make you feel more short of breath. This is called the anxiety–breathlessness cycle.

Relaxation techniques

Here are two relaxation techniques that can help break the anxiety–breathlessness cycle. Try these techniques one at a time, then try doing them together.

Deep breathing

  1. Put one hand on your abdomen and breathe in deeply.
  2. Feel your abdomen inflate. Push your abdomen out as much as possible when you are inhaling, to help fill your lungs with air.
  3. Exhale through your mouth while keeping your lips pursed (as if you are about to kiss someone or whistle).
  4. Feel your abdomen returning to its normal position.
  5. Wait after each exhalation until you are ready to take another deep breath.

After a few tries, find your own rhythm. For example, take one deep breath for every 5 normal breaths. If you start feeling dizzy, take a few normal breaths before starting again.

Positive thinking

  1. Concentrate on a positive image.
  2. Begin to relax.
  3. Use all your senses to make your image seem more real. Think about the sight, sound, touch, taste and smell associated with your image. For example, if you are visualizing yourself on a cruise, see the clear blue sky and the sparkling water, and hear the sound of the water.
  4. End the visualization exercise by retaining this image in your mind for the rest of the day.

Opening up

Perhaps the best way to relieve feelings of stress and anxiety is to open up and really “get things off your chest.” Talk to your friends, family members and your doctor about how COPD truly makes you feel on a daily basis. Don’t be afraid to express your honest opinion, and do your best to communicate in a calm, clear and rational matter. Try to resolve problems as they come up, one at a time, rather than bottling them up and feeling frustrated. And as difficult as it may be, especially on “bad days,” try not to worry about future events, and maintain a positive attitude.

This is just some information on how managing stress and communicating your feelings can help you be you while living with COPD. There are many more courses of action available to you, including quitting smoking, taking medication as directed, eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, getting a good night’s sleep, having a satisfying sex life, and planning for leisure activities and trips.

Visit and for even more tips, techniques and support for living with COPD.