The Emotional Side of COPD

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on April 11, 2023
3 min read

When you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), your physical symptoms can sometimes affect your emotional well-being. You may feel fearful, sad, or worried about your condition.

These emotions could happen for many reasons:

  • You blame yourself for having COPD, perhaps because you smoke or did so in the past.
  • You've had to give up doing some things you enjoy.
  • You have trouble sleeping and are tired more often.
  • Your breathing problems are scary and stress you out.
  • You feel distanced from others because you can't be as active as you once were.

Nearly everyone with a long-lasting illness has occasional unpleasant feelings. But if these emotions linger or affect your day-to-day life, they could be a sign of a more serious problem.

People with COPD are more likely to have clinical anxiety and depression than those without the condition. But many people with COPD aren't aware that they have a mental health problem. Recognizing that you have emotional issues is the first step toward managing them.

Depression is a disorder with feelings of intense emptiness or grief that last for more than a couple of weeks. These feelings affect your work, social, and family life. You may not enjoy your favorite activities as much as you used to.

People with anxiety disorder constantly worry or expect the worst. This can make it difficult to do your usual activities. Since anxiety causes you to breathe faster, it can worsen shortness of breath for people with COPD. This sometimes leads to panic attacks.

Poor mental health affects more than your emotions. If you can control your feelings of anxiety and depression, you’re more likely to stick with your COPD treatment plan and improve your physical health.

Depression can take away your motivation and your energy. You might not eat properly, exercise, follow your treatment plan, or get enough rest. All these things can lead to more COPD flare-ups.

Anxiety, along with breathing issues from COPD, may cause you to avoid physical activity. This can harm both your physical and mental health. Working out helps you maintain lung strength and avoid stress, anxiety, and depression.

While you can’t avoid all stress, anxiety, or sadness, you can take steps to manage the way you feel:

  • Avoid triggers. As much as possible, stay away from places, people, and situations that stress you out. Surround yourself with encouraging influences.
  • Get involved. Don’t pull away from your family and friends when you're feeling down or stressed out. Make time to stay social.
  • Speak up. Tell your doctor about your emotions. They can refer you to a counselor or psychologist who can help manage your mental health. While medications for anxiety and depression don't always work as well for people who have COPD, talk therapy and counseling can improve your quality of life.
  • Talk to others. Try a support group. Talking with other people who have COPD may help you cope with your emotions. Ask your doctor or search online for in-person or virtual groups in your community.
  • Take care of your health. Relaxation techniques, including breathing exercises, journaling, and yoga, can lower stress and help you deal with COPD. Physical activity can also improve how you feel mentally and physically. Ask your doctor what level of activity is right for you. If you don’t feel good enough to exercise, just getting outside and doing things you enjoy can help your mood.