Better Breathing Series: Breathing Exercises for Dealing with the Anxiety of COPD

Breathing Exercises for Dealing with the Anxiety of COPD

Feeling anxious? You’re not alone.

According to the ADAA, anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses in the US, affecting almost every 1 in 5 people. Anxiety can be common for people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), largely because of the panic or alarm that your body experiences when you have difficulty breathing.

Use this article to help you better understand what causes stress – and to learn some breathing techniques to help manage your breath in anxious situations or when you’re experiencing COPD symptoms.

Recognize What Causes Stress in your Life

Everyone experiences stress. It’s important to determine if there are specific areas that are contributing to your stress level more than others. Doing so may help you see more clearly whether you can minimize, better manage, or altogether eliminate stress in your life.

Below are some common stressors, as outlined by Healthline, that may lead to flare ups:

1. Employment
2. Financial situations
3. Relationships
4. Sleep habits
5. Living circumstances
6. The ability to perform ordinary tasks

Do any of these stressor ring true for you?

The good news is that you have more power than you might think when it comes to dealing with stress. Outside of solutions you might discuss with your doctor, learning breathing exercises are a great way to help manage your body’s response to stressful situations or topics.

Breathing Techniques for Anxiety and COPD

Those with COPD who also experience anxiety can often find themselves in a breathlessness-anxiety cycle. The more breathless you feel, the more panicked you become, which only results in you feeling more breathless.

Breathing exercises such as pursed-lip breathing and belly breathing

Pursed Lip Breathing

Pursed Lip Breathing includes a combination of inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.

1. Relax your neck and shoulders.
2. Inhale slowly through the nostrils for two seconds, keeping your mouth closed.
3. Exhale through the mouth for four seconds. The extended time is key! When exhaling, pucker your mouth as if giving a kiss.
4. While breathing out, keep a slow and steady breath; don’t breathe out hard.

Pursed lip breathing can help mitigate anxiety through lowering the heart rate. If you are experiencing anxiety regardless of having COPD, try pursed lip breathing as one of your go-to breathing techniques.

Belly Breathing

Another potentially helpful breathing technique is called belly breathing. We’ve referenced this technique in a previous Better Breathing Series article which talked about breathing techniques for runners.

While this may sound difficult, it is performed quite literally how it sounds, with the focus on the breath expanding the belly rather than the chest.

Here are the steps to this technique:

1. While sitting or lying down, place a hand on your chest. Place the other hand on your abdomen.
2. Inhale through the nostrils.
3. Feel your belly rise, while attempting to keep your chest still.
4. Exhale slowly.
5. Repeat until you feel calmer and the anxiety dissipates.

This is an easy exercise to do midday in your office chair or before bed as you try to relax.

Take a Deep Breath!

While anxiety affects a number of people and only exacerbates COPD, there are breathing exercises and techniques that can help. You can find other breathing resources on the LiveActively Blog.

For more detailed information on dealing with anxiety and COPD symptoms, consult your doctor.

Feel free to contact us at any time with questions!