How do you manage COPD stress?

Living with a chronic disorder like COPD can be extremely stressful and challenging at times. Stress and COPD normally go together. Also, COPD stress can lead to anxiety and depression which are the worst COPD symptoms.

Stress caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is different from routine stress. While living with COPD, the anxiety due to short of breath is always with you.

COPD and stress are closely related because everyone has an alarm system present in their brains. This system detects a breathing problem. If your “breathing alarm system” senses that you are not getting sufficient air, it sends out a warning. This warning feels like a rapid rush of anxiety.

When you have COPD your alarm system can become hyperactive. As in this case, you are always struggling to get adequate air. This can be an unceasing source of stress. To further complicate problems, this stress can also make COPD symptoms worse.

Treating this anxiety may result in reduced distress by COPD patients. It also reduces the costs for hospitalization and treatment. A new research has found a method for treating this problem. It involves the use of cognitive behavior therapy which takes into account the unique problems of COPD patients.

What the study revealed

In the recent research, Karen Heslop-Marshall and her colleagues screened the COPD patients for anxiety. She is a Ph.D. scholar and a nurse consultant at Newcastle-upon-Tyne NHS Foundation Trust hospital in England.

59 percent of patients had anxiety symptoms from 1,500. Some of those patients with anxiety and COPD symptoms were given cognitive behavioral sessions with nurses. The nurses were specializing in respiratory problems. On the other hand, some were just given self-support literature on anxiety management.

Scientists observed that cognitive behavioral therapy patients’ management of their anxiety improved greatly more than the other participants. The participants receiving the sessions of the behavioral therapy had considerably reduced hospital admissions.

That was not unexpected to Clark. The behavioral therapy works mainly by assisting patients to work on means of dealing with and managing anxiety, just to keep it from spinning out of control.

Clark said that 17 years ago he was detected with COPD and was given 6 years to live. He has 20 percent lung function, which he states feels like you have only had the wind knocked out of you pretty much all the time. “I know the fear of not being able to get sufficient breath,” he said. To deal with, he communicated with others and learned what he could do about coping with this stress.

How to cope with anxiety

Heslop-Marshall had an idea of reducing the terror through education. “Many patients do not get the connection between breathlessness and feeling alarmed,” she said. “They think that it is a part of COPD.”

It is not, though it is linked. When you are frightened because you are struggling to get enough breath, that makes inhalation worse, she described. But there are things which you can do to control those terrors.

Backward counting from 107, Heslop-Marshall recommended. Or counting the number of red cars you see. “You can do anything to take your mind off your breathing,” she said. Try to think of other means to reduce your stress? Have a look at the following list and see if anything sounds good to you.

• Being barefoot in the grass
• Laughing
• Talk about something funny, or even ridiculous! If it brings a smile to your face, it’s doing a great job!
• Learning to say “no” to keep your timetable under control
• Taking a break from your daily routine
• Powering down all electronics
• Listening to music you really love
• Reading inspirational quotations
• Looking at beautiful images on the social media or internet
• Reading
• Knitting
• Playing with pets
• Learning to meditate

Talking to other patients for tips can also aid patients to find different strategies that may work.

Getting professional help

It becomes much easier to master these coping mechanisms with some aid from an expert. And if that professional has expertise in lung disorders like COPD, Heslop-Marshall believed, then they’d be better able to state whether there was a genuine breathing problem or whether it was only anxiety.

“If your lungs are at 80 percent and you still have anxiety, then we’d want to push you slightly. Because it might be in your brain more than lungs,” she said. This is the reason her research relied on cognitive behavioral therapy from respiratory nurses instead of psychologists.

“As we can bear in mind patients’ lung strength, so we can gauge whether their goals are realistic or not,” she said. She did add it’s essential for nurses to check in with psychologists occasionally. In the research, COPD patients saw nurses for behavioral training for about four visits.

Heslop-Marshall elaborated that the National Health Service, the United Kingdom’s publicly funded countrywide healthcare system, has asked her for the data behind the report. They expressed concern in using her recommendations to lower the hospitalizations and associated costs of COPD patients.

Getting away from drugs

In the U.S, a larger dependence on treatments like behavioral therapy could possibly decrease dependence on drugs. It would surely help to control anxiety, which patient supporters say have inadequate benefits.

“Many people with COPD think that they need medicines for depression or anxiety,” John Linnell said. He was a COPD advocate and was diagnosed with the disease in 2005. “But several these treatments are to correct a chemical disparity in the brain.”

What COPD patients are suffering from is not an imbalance in chemical but terror caused by a failure to breathe.

Thus, at least for COPD patients, drugs are not going to benefit, Linnell said. Also, he added, many of these medications can decrease respiratory rate so might end up aching breathing in the long run. He also recommended relaxing performances, like mindful awareness.

He and Clark suggested non-pharmacological techniques as an alternative. Like pursed-lip breathing can help empty lungs of carbon dioxide and refill them.  To better share strategies, Heslop-Marshall hopes more nurses employed on lung disorders get training in behavioral therapy.

More cognitive behavioral therapy work by nurses could save millions of COPD medications and hospitalizations, she said.

“But it is not going to be easy as we would need to train society.” “We are trying to teach as many individuals as we can,” she said, “and, a digital version would be the goal one day.”

The bottom line

People with lung disorder COPD frequently have trouble breathing, which can cause anxiety. Cognitive behavior therapy can help patients develop approaches for dealing with anxiety and other conditions.

It can help reduce that anxiety or depression and lower the chances COPD patients will end up in hospitals. This is particularly accurate when the therapy is done by the nurses with expertise in lung disorders, a new research finds.

Areeba Hussain

Areeba is an independent medical and healthcare writer. For the last three years, she is writing for Tophealthjournal. Her prime areas of interest are diseases, medicine, treatments, and alternative therapies. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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