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Chronic Lung Disease: Controlling Stress

Stress and anxiety can make breathing harder. When it’s hard to breathe, it’s natural to get anxious and start to panic. This makes you even more short of breath. This sequence is known as the dyspnea cycle, and it’s common among people with chronic lung disease. Talk with your healthcare provider about how you are feeling. It's important for him or her to understand what is going on and how it is affecting your life. Breathing training and coping strategies can help you manage stress and anxiety.

Understanding the cycle

When you’re short of breath, your breathing muscles get tense. It’s hard to take a deep breath. You may worry that you’re not getting enough air. Then you start breathing faster and become more short of breath. You may even start to panic, which makes symptoms seem worse. Often, people with chronic lung disease try to prevent this cycle. They limit their activity, stay at home, and don't do anything that could cause shortness of breath. You don’t have to live this way. 

Ways to relax

When you find yourself getting stressed or anxious, make an effort to relax. Doing so will help break the dyspnea cycle. Sit in a quiet, comfortable place. Do pursed-lip and diaphragmatic breathing. You may also find the following helpful:

  • Certain activities can help you relax. These can include reading a good book, listening to music or relaxation tapes, practicing yoga or tai chi, meditating, and praying. Find activities that work for you.

  • Try visualization. Picture yourself in a peaceful place, such as the beach. Feel the warm sand. Hear the waves. Smell the ocean. Doing this may help you feel more relaxed.

  • Your healthcare provider may advise using a bronchodilator or oxygen therapy along with these or other relaxation methods.

  • Stay positive by keeping a positive outlook on life. Contact your healthcare providers if you feel depressed. 

To prevent shortness of breath from limiting your life:

  • Right now. Learn to stop an attack with pursed-lip breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, and relaxation methods. If you don’t know how to do these, ask your healthcare provider.

  • In day-to-day life. Learn to maximize your energy and to breathe during activity, so you can do more. Learn how to do belly breathing and pursed-lip breathing. These 2 exercises can help you breathe better. Try to do each exercise for 5 to 10 minutes every day.

  • Over time. Start exercising, so your body can start to handle more activity. Being active may make you short of breath. Even so, it is good for your lungs. Exercise can strengthen the muscles that help you breathe. Ask your healthcare provider about safe exercises for you.

  • Nutrition. Eat the right amount of food to keep a healthy weight. Your healthcare provider may refer you to a dietitian or nutritionist.

  • Prevent lung infections. Get vaccinated as directed by your healthcare provider.

  • Stop smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke. Cigarette smoking is the main cause of COPD. Stopping smoking is the most important step you can take to treat COPD. If you need help stopping smoking, talk with your healthcare provider.

  • Breathe in clean air. Try to stay away from smoke, chemicals, fumes, and dust. Don’t let anyone smoke in your home. Stay indoors on smoggy days.  

  • Good rest. If you have trouble sleeping at night, don’t use sleeping pills or over-the-counter medicines without talking with your healthcare provider first.

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Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 5/1/2020
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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