Talking to Your Family and Friends About COPD

Medically Reviewed by Paul Boyce, MD on June 27, 2022
4 min read

Although you’re the one who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the people who love you will also feel its effects. COPD can impact your social life and your relationships at home and at work.

When you open up to those who are closest to you about how COPD affects your life and your body, it gives them a chance to better understand what you deal with daily.

If your family and friends are willing to join your support system, it can help you better face everyday challenges. And if your COPD worsens, you may have to rely on others even more to help manage the condition.

Recent research shows that if you have social support, especially from those who live with you, it makes it easier for you to take care of yourself. And this, in turn, can improve your quality of life.

Social support means that you have people you can turn to when life gets hard. Connecting with others can make your problems seem much less overwhelming. Whether you are having a good day or bad day, it’s worth letting yourself rely and depend on those who are willing to help you out.

Sharing about a chronic condition like COPD can be very personal. How you decide to discuss your health is completely up to you, including who you choose to tell and what level of detail you feel comfortable sharing.

You might feel embarrassed to open up about your condition because of the stigma, or negative assumptions, that some people may have about it. Studies show that shame can be a powerful factor for people who live with COPD, especially if you think you might be judged by others.

Even if you worry about how someone might respond, try not to assume how they will react. Give them a chance to listen and learn.

It’s hard to know what and how to share about your COPD, especially with people who you aren’t as close with. But a good rule of thumb is to keep it simple. Give them some basic information about COPD and explain why it might limit your ability to do certain tasks or join in some activities.

It also might be helpful for people to understand how living with COPD can affect your emotional state, including fear, stress, anxiety, or depression. This can impact not only your mood but also your ability to enjoy work or recreation and enjoy time with your family and friends. Your loved ones can also encourage you to get help for managing the emotions that often come with a serious illness, such as talking to a counselor or joining in a support group.

Let them know that COPD is a serious lung condition that affects millions of people worldwide, and it is among the top causes of disability. And while it is most often linked with smoking, a quarter of all cases are in people who didn’t smoke.

You also might want to bring a close friend or family member with you to one of your doctor’s appointments and ask them to take notes for you. This gives them a chance to ask the doctor questions about your condition and help you remember what the doctor said.

COPD can make breathing much harder. You might have to take it easy or give up some activities that you normally enjoyed. And while it might be tough for your family to adjust to these changes in routines and new roles, explaining why will help them to understand.

One important thing for you to explain, especially to those who you spend most of your day with, is what might happen if you get a flare-up, or an acute exacerbation, of your COPD symptoms. Make an emergency action plan so that everyone knows what to expect and how to respond.

Most people in your life probably want to help but don't know how. So reach out to your partner, family, friends, co-workers, or neighbors if you need something specific or if you’re feeling isolated and overwhelmed.

Getting the help you need, when you need it, is a key part of managing COPD. Your family members, friends, and co-workers may be able to support you in many ways. Try to suggest a few tangible ways people can help you.

For instance, if you’re finding it hard to quit smoking, ask someone you trust to keep you accountable to achieving your goal -- and to remind you to reach out to your doctor for advice on quitting. Ask people you live with for help to make things you need easier to reach.

Find new activities that you can do together, such as making a healthy meal together. Or if you find there’s a daily task that you normally do that’s now more difficult for you to manage on your own, ask someone to share the load with you.