It’s not uncommon for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to experience anxiety. Because COPD can make breathing difficult for people, it can send signals to the brain indicating danger, causing anxiety or even a full-blown panic attack.
According to a 2016 study, people with COPD have a higher chance of experiencing anxiety-related symptoms. However, the symptoms of anxiety and COPD tend to overlap, making diagnosing anxiety difficult in people with COPD difficult.
If you have COPD, you must understand the relationship between COPD and anxiety and the different ways you can manage the symptoms.
The Relationship Between COPD and Anxiety
Anxiety is a part of our body’s alert system. Whenever we experience something stressful, it gives us a signal to alert us of the stimuli causing the unrest. Sometimes, anxiety is caused by fearful or worrisome thoughts, while other times, it could be caused by an external event, such as a chronic condition or a traumatic event.
Because COPD is a chronic lung condition, it can make it significantly difficult for people to breathe, sometimes causing breathlessness or excavations. Upon experiencing shortness of breath, the brain immediately sends a signal of distress, which may trigger anxiety or a panic attack.
Anxiety and panic attacks can make it more difficult for people to breathe properly or change their breathing patterns back to normal. Because the symptoms overlap, people with COPD fall into the vicious cycle of experiencing breathing difficulties without being able to control them.
How to Understand If COPD is Triggering Your Panic Attack?
People with COPD often know the symptoms caused by a panic attack because the brain sends stress signals during episodes of shortness of breath.
Panic attacks tend to be dangerous for COPD patients because they can cause exacerbations, worsening their symptoms even further.
Here are three signs that you may be experiencing a panic attack –
● When it’s intense and sudden
● When it occurs without a warning
● When the cause is an irrational fear
As mentioned earlier, specific events tend to trigger panic attacks, which may not directly come across as an apparent trigger. In that case, here are some of the symptoms that can help you identify a panic attack –
● Rapid heartbeat
● Difficult breathing
● Chest tightening
● Cold sweats
● Sudden change in body temperature, including chills or hot flashes
● A sense of impending doom or feelings of dread
Some people experience panic attacks more frequently than others. Generally, it lasts for a couple of minutes, but it goes on for a longer duration in some cases.
How to Cope with Anxiety with COPD?
When you join a cardiopulmonary rehab program, you are taught how to deal with panic attacks and anxiety as part of the curriculum. Some of the treatment strategies that can help you relax your mind and body are discussed below –
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
You can seek CBT from your counselor as part of your cardiopulmonary rehab. You can talk about your triggers and find new and better ways to respond to them by changing the focus from panic to relaxation.
Meditation is useful in dealing with anxiety among people with COPD. Here are a couple of practices that you should add to your lifestyle –
● Guided meditation
● Chanting (the use of calming phrases or words)
Meditation alone cannot treat the underlying cause of anxiety, but it could be an excellent supplement to other treatment strategies.
Anti-anxiety medications, such as diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax), can help manage anxiety symptoms, but they might not be suitable for people with COPD. Because people with COPD have to take other medications, some anti-anxiety pills can interact with them, causing serious side effects.
Because of this reason, it is essential to talk to your doctor about anxiety and use the right medication to deal with the symptoms in the short term.
Pulmonary rehabilitation for COPD includes educational information, exercises, diet planning, counseling, and energy-saving advice that focus on enhancing your quality of life by keeping your lungs as healthy as possible.
Because pulmonary rehab teaches you to deal with the physical symptoms of COPD effectively, it can also be useful for COPD-related anxiety. You will also learn more about the psychological triggers during sessions, making it easier to avoid them or deal with them whenever you experience them.
Stress and anxiety are common side effects of COPD, but when you experience panic attacks, you must start looking at ways to manage your condition, so it doesn’t get worse. Fortunately, a range of treatment methods and strategies can help you deal with anxiety and panic attacks to lead a reasonably healthy life. If you want to discuss your options in further detail, reach out to your doctor or healthcare provider for more information on coping with anxiety.