7 Ways to Reduce Stress When You Have a Chronic Lung Condition
Breathing… If you had asked yourself years ago whether or not breathing would be a source of your stress and anxiety, you probably would responded with a resounding “No!” Now, after having a chronic lung diagnosis, it is easy to attribute your shortness of breath to making things harder for you in your daily life. Whether it be planning a trip and having to remember all of your medications, nebulizer, and CPAP machine, or making plans with friends and family keeping in mind your limitations, or for some folks simply having to get dressed at be at an appointment on time wreaks havoc on your stress level. Managing your chronic lung condition is tough. There’s no doubt about that. You have to put more thought into your everyday tasks and preparation than most people think about any daily activity. Not to mention, that no day is the same and counting on how you feel tomorrow or the next day is no guarantee. People…. IT IS STRESSFUL. I get it.
From that daily dose (or more) of stress, it is important to figure out ways in which to create balance in your life. Finding ways to reduce your stress and anxiety level will help you to approach problems with clearer thinking, manage your emotions, and feel better overall. When we stress out and our emotions take hold we get more short of breath.
Let me give you a case where stress and anxiety effected one of my patients this week. I have a patient, let me just call him “Joe.” Joe has severe COPD. He has been coming to rehab for a couple of months now in hopes to build strength and endurance to play golf again this spring. Everyday tasks can be difficult for Joe. Joe has to prepare for an activity by taking his breathing medications and wearing his oxygen just to get ready to come to rehab to exercise. This week Joe gets ready and makes it out of his house (where it is 30 degrees outside) drives to rehab, pulls into our valet area and according to him… a fear has come true. He sees no valet attendant and panics that we will then have to either park in a parking deck and walk all the way in or may have to turn around and go home after putting forth so much effort to get to our rehab. With this panic came shortness of breath and even though a valet attendant showed up to park his car several moments later…. Joe was in a tailspin. He arrived at our rehab door panicked, winded, and dusky. My heart broke because this stress and anxiety not only wore him out even before he could exercise but I fear it may have affected his confidence to go and do the things he wants to do.
You see stress and anxiety compounds the effects of the lung condition. It can be so powerful, make you feel more breathless, and take away your confidence. That is why this week I wanted to focus on ways in which you can reduce your level of stress and anxiety so that you can hopefully handle these situations with clearer thinking and confidence that you can get through it.
Here are 7 Ways to Reduce Stress When You Have a Chronic Lung Condition
1. Organize Your Life – Do you feel that you are constantly forgetting things that you need to do or leaving things behind? Organization plays a huge part in feeling like you are prepared for the day. Make sure you are taking your medications when they are prescribed, that you have your personal concentrator plugged in charging and ready to go. Make sure you have a full tank of oxygen if you should need it. Know where you can find extra oxygen tubing and supplies. Decrease clutter around your home to remove any trip hazards that could cause a fall. Get rid of the things that you haven’t used or worn in years that are just taking up space.
When I talk about organization I am not just referring to things, but your thoughts as well. Prioritizing what is important is a huge aspect of feeling organized. Have an idea of what is on your calendar for the next day, in order to give yourself plenty time to get ready, organize transportation, or make alternate plans if you feel like weather or timing could be an issue. Are you piling too much on your To Do List? Don’t add pressure on yourself to do an excessive amount in one day.
2. Change How You View Things – Does that old cliché question of “Is the glass half empty or half full?” say a lot about you and how you handle situations in your life? How does your body react or view stressful situations? Are you a problem solver or do you cower from a challenge? Now don’t confuse what I am saying for doing things that aren’t safe but what I want you to think about is how can you improve how you respond to stress in your life. Can you figure out a way to overcome obstacles and do the things you love so that you can live your best life? Gratitude journals are another way of looking at the big picture of your life and putting the stressful things that bog us down into perspective.
3. Pump the Brakes – Rushing around and not pacing yourself can really cause breathlessness to catch up to you in a hurry. Make sure you are allowing plenty of time to get dressed and ready for you day. Pace yourself (and take breaks if need be) but allow time to do so. Avoid early morning appointments if it takes you a while to get going. Calm your sense of urgency. Take time to “smell the roses” or enjoy the moments with people you love and admire. Don’t preoccupy yourself with taking phone calls and scrolling through social media (except for reading your occasional BreatheLiveFit blog :) ). Be present and enjoy time that you are the most happy.
4. Don’t Be the Superhero – We all want to be available and help out our loved ones and friends. Sometimes we can be so self-sacrificing that we forget to take care of ourselves. Set limits and healthy boundaries on what you are willing to do. Don’t burden your heart and mind with the issues of others. It is totally acceptable to feel empathy and want to help but when you take on the emotions and stress of others you are compounding what is already on your plate. Ask for help when you yourself need assistance. Many times people in your life don’t know what you need. If you are feeling stress and anxiety with things like grocery shopping or housekeeping, let someone know that can lend you a hand.
5. Plan Your Escape – Sometimes we need to completely remove ourselves from our normal day to day activities to be able to reset. Rest and relaxation can come in the form of a short getaway, a vacation, or sometimes just a long drive through the countryside. We can’t begin to handle all that life and lung disease throws at us without the ability to clear your mind occasionally. Take time for daily meditation and allow for complete silence in order to collect your thoughts and examine your emotions.
6. Change Your Diet – There have been all kinds of studies about how the things we eat affect us on a physical, mental, and emotional level. Are you bogging yourself down with processed and fast food drive-thrus? Or do you eat fresh, non-processed foods that restore energy and provide your body with the vitamins, minerals, and nutrition you need to feel good. You will be surprised how eating better can translate to feeling and breathing better. If you feel healthier, you will have self-confidence which can reduce anxiety and stress. Subsequently, don’t add additional stress by making elaborate meals each night. Make enough food so that you can enjoy leftovers for the next day in order to give yourself the night off.
7. Let’s Get Physical – You all knew I was going there… this is BreatheLiveFIT. Exercise. It produces endorphins which makes you feel happy and reduces stress. Let me ask you this… Do you know any one that has just completed an exercise that isn’t happy? Exercise reduces stress and increases your strength and endurance so that you can breathe easier. Stronger muscles = less breathlessness = a happier, less stressed you. Make sure that you are scheduling time for your exercise several times a week. If you haven’t been exercising lately, start out slow and gradually add to your routine.
Talk to someone if you are getting to a point where your stress and anxiety are causing you to become reclusive or emotional. We all want to feel like we can take control of our emotions but if you are becoming fearful and unable to perform daily activities due to stress and anxiety, you should speak to your physician about it. It is a common occurrence that many people who have a chronic illness get prescribed medication to help control their emotions and reactions to stressful situations. This can be a wonderful option that can get you back to feeling like your old self again.
Thanks for Reading! Remember: We are in this TOGETHER!
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