COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is the name given to a group of common illnesses that constrict, or obstruct, the lungs and airways. The two forms of COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
The most common cause of COPD is smoking, and the more a person smokes, the more likely they are to develop COPD, though some people smoke for many years and never get COPD, and very rarely people who have never smoked can develop this disease.
Other common causes of COPD include exposure to certain gases or fumes in the workplace, exposure to heavy amounts of secondhand smoke and pollution, and frequent use of a cooking fire without proper ventilation.
There is no cure for COPD. But there are many things you can do to relieve symptoms and keep the disease from getting worse.
For smokers, quitting is the best way to slow down the damage to the lungs. There are medicines that can slow the progress and ease the symptoms of COPD, including quick-relief drugs that help open the airways (rescue inhalers), long-term medications and steroids that reduce lung inflammation, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling in the airways. Some people with COPD may need oxygen therapy at home if to improve the level of oxygen in the blood.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is a specialized kind of therapy that does not cure COPD, but teaches patients about the disease, trains them to breathe in a different way so they can stay active and feel better, and keeps them functioning at the highest level possible.
The Link to Anxiety
Many people with COPD also experience anxiety. This is because of the way the brain interprets and reacts to threats.
Stress is the physical and psychological reaction to any threat, internal or external, real or perceived. When we feel that we are in danger, even if the threat is small or routine, the brain reacts by initiating the “fight or flight” response and certain changes happen in our bodies. Our heart rate increases, our breathing becomes more shallow and faster, and chemicals are released to make us feel more alert and ready to handle the threat.
The symptoms of COPD, like shortness of breath, wheezing, lower oxygen levels, and chest tightness, can be interpreted by the brain as a threat, and the stress response is activated. Sometimes that normal stress response can escalate into anxiety, and even panic attacks.
A 2016 study concluded that people with COPD have a significantly higher likelihood of anxiety. However, it can be difficult for doctors to accurately diagnose anxiety in a person with COPD, as the symptoms of the two conditions can overlap.
Panic attacks and anxiety can also cause a person to have difficulty breathing or to change their normal breathing patterns. Due to this overlap of symptoms, a person with COPD often becomes trapped in a cycle where the breathing difficulties of COPD trigger anxiety, which makes it even more difficult to breathe.
Panic attacks can be dangerous for people with COPD because they can exacerbate breathing difficulties and make it even more challenging to get air from each breath, leading to worsening of COPD symptoms, which can sometimes lead to worsening anxiety.
How to Stop Anxiety
Some of the most powerful and effective ways to stop anxiety, even as it's happening, are techniques that directly impact the brain. The methods I teach my clients use hypnosis and Neuro-Linguistic Programming to change their state of mind quickly and easily by accessing the parts of their mind responsible for the anxiety.
Abdominal breathing is a great example of one of these methods. Abdominal breathing stimulates the Vagus nerve, the large system of nerves responsible for turning off the stress response. Breathing exercises that use abdominal breathing can train the mind to stay more relaxed more often. You can email me for a copy of my instructions for Abdominal Breathing and Square Breathing at KarenGray@GreenMountianHypnosis.com.
Another very effective and easy to learn technique is a pattern interrupt.
You can think of having an anxiety attack as being stuck in a loop, or a pattern. If you are able to break that pattern, your mind has a difficult time finding its way back into the anxiety loop.
A pattern interrupt comes from Neuro Linguistic Programming and is a way of changing a person’s mental, emotional, or behavioral state or strategy. The most basic form of a pattern interrupt is a shock. Imagine someone clapping their hands very loudly in the middle of your sentence and being so surprised by the noise that you forget what you’re saying. Your mind fell off track, and couldn’t find it’s way back right away - leaving some space where you can choose to change direction.
A person can learn to create your own non-shocking pattern interrupts easily, and once they are learned, they can become automatic responses to anxiety.
Step 1: What's the Pattern?
Here is where you can start to look at what the specific pattern of anxiety is. Think about what triggers an anxiety attack. Is it a physical thing, like pain or shortness of breath? Or is it a thought, like fears or worries? Identifying these triggers can serve two purposes. If you are aware of what triggers your anxiety, then you can avoid those triggers whenever possible. If you can’t avoid them, you can recognize what’s happening and remain more in control..
Step 2: Where Does It Derail You?
This part can be a bit tricky for some people. Here is where you want to pinpoint the moment when you get thrown off. It can be subtle for some people, and for others it can be very clear. In anxiety, this is the moment when you may feel like you don’t have control over what’s happening. This is the moment when the autopilot takes over and you are just along for the ride. And this is the point where you can introduce a new behavior, to interrupt the pattern.
Step 3: Create an Interrupt to Break Out of Your Old Pattern?
Once you’ve got your finger on the point where things go offline, you want to install a new behavior. What you can do in that moment that is different from what you have done in the past? Make sure it’s not something you have done before because, let’s be honest, whatever you were doing before wasn’t working. You can choose almost anything, like reciting a short nursery rhyme, yelling, singing a song, stand up, walk backwards, do multiplication tables in your head, jump up and down, clap your hands, count forward by threes starting at the number eight. You get the idea. Pick something that has nothing to do with the mental state you don’t want to be in anymore. The more parts of your mind and body you can use, the better.
Step 4: Implement It
The next step is to practice it. Every single day, or as often as possible. Close your eyes and take a few deep abdominal breaths and let yourself remember some of those past times when you experienced anxiety, but this time, play them through in a slightly different way. Remember those times from the past, and add in your pattern interrupt. Let yourself imagine that you are using your pattern interrupt and seeing how you’re quickly and easily able to calm down.
This method allows your mind to see a new option with a more desirable outcome, and the more you practice it, the better you get at it, until you are using your pattern interrupt automatically.∎
Karen Gray is a Certified Hypnotist, a Certified Hypnosis Instructor, a Registered Nurse, and the Director of Green Mountain Hypnosis. For more information on how you can use hypnosis to change your life, contact Karen at email@example.com, or (802) 566-0464.
Use this link to get a free 15 minute hypnosis audio for stress relief.