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Coping with Emotions from COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is a challenging disease that can sometimes stir up difficult emotions in you and your loved ones. While living with COPD, or coping with your feelings about a loved one who is, you may feel:

  • Depressed
  • Sad
  • Anxious (especially regarding shortness of breath)
  • Nervous
  • Angry
  • Grief-ridden
  • Regretful
  • Frustrated
  • Guilty

While all of these feelings are completely normal, they do not have to take over your life. There is help.

Tips for Coping with Emotions

  • Calling on your support system, even if it is just one person, can make these challenging times a little easier.
  • Most people in your life want to help, but they don't know how. Don't be afraid to ask your friends, family, care team and even strangers to help you through hard times.
  • Make sure to talk to your doctor about how you're feeling. They may provide you with coping techniques or breathing exercises (such as pursed lip breathing) that will help. They may recommend you speak with a mental health professional such as a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.
  • Connect with a palliative care team that can help you manage your symptoms.
  • Join a COPD support group, such as our Better Breathers Clubs.
  • Join an online support community like the Living with COPD Community on Inspire.
  • Call the Lung HelpLine.
  • Write in a diary or journal to express your feelings.
  • Exercise can help clear your mind and lighten your mood

Recognizing Depression

Depression is especially common in COPD patients. How do you know if you are depressed and not just feeling a little down? If you feel or identify with five or more items on this list, ask your doctor whether you might be suffering from clinical depression:

  • Feeling sad more days than not for several weeks in a row
  • Restless sleep, waking up too early or having a hard time falling asleep
  • Sleeping either much more or much less than usual
  • Feeling less interested in your favorite people or activities
  • Decreased energy and motivation
  • Difficulty concentrating and problem solving
  • Wanting to either eat less or more than usual
  • Low self-esteem or feeling worthless
  • Feeling hopeless—that you'll never feel better no matter what happens
  • Crying much more easily and more frequently than usual
  • Significant weight change (loss or gain without changing your diet or routine)
  • Feeling irritable with everyone and everything in your life
  • Being much more sensitive to criticism than usual
  • Feeling excessively guilty
  • Thinking about suicide or wishing your life would end
  • Inability to laugh or enjoy yourself

Sometimes the best thing you can do as a caregiver is to listen. It might be tempting to try and problem solve, but sometimes just lending an ear is the best medicine. However, don't be afraid to suggest your loved one talk to a professional and call the doctor immediately if you believe they are a danger to themselves.

As a caregiver, it is also important to take care of your own mental health and well-being. Check out Caring for the Caregiver for more information.

    Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed December 18, 2017.

    Page Last Updated: March 13, 2018

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