Adjusting to Life With COPD
Making small changes to your daily routine can help you breathe better and have fewer problems living with COPD.
By Krisha McCoy
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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A COPD diagnosis will prompt some lifestyle adjustments, primarily to help reduce your symptoms and conserve your energy. If you’re one of the 12 million Americans living with COPD, taking the steps below will make everyday tasks easier and help you control the shortness of breath, fatigue, and other common COPD symptoms you feel.
Here are some strategies you can use every day to help you adjust to life with COPD.
- Participate in pulmonary rehabilitation.Pulmonary rehabilitation for COPD "can improve [COPD patients'] quality of life, their breathlessness, and their functional strength," says Jane Whalen-Price, PT, director of rehabilitation services at National Jewish Health in Denver. Pulmonary rehabilitation consists of exercise, nutritional counseling, and education to help you learn to live with COPD. It helps "COPD patients stay active and functional and not have to give in to their disease," she says.
- Rest when you need to.Even though your pulmonary rehabilitation is important, you may need to take it easy now and then. "On days when COPD symptoms flare up, we tell our COPD patients to hold back from doing their cardiopulmonary exercises, and advise them to continue to do some of the milder exercises and their activities of daily living," says Whalen-Price. So listen to your body and give yourself a break when you need it.
- Practice breathing control.Your respiratory therapist can work with you to teach techniques such as pursed-lip breathing and diaphragmatic breathing. These can help reduce the shortness of breath you feel when doing activities.
- Find shortcuts for your daily activities.Find ways to make your everyday activities easier to perform. For instance, when you get out of the shower, put on an absorbent robe rather than using your energy to towel-dry yourself.
- Ask for help when you need it.It's important to have people around to help you with tasks that become too difficult for you to perform, even though it may be difficult to ask for help at first. So that you can continue to contribute to household maintenance, Kitty Weary of West Yellowstone, Mont., who provided COPD care for her father, husband, and mother, suggests what she calls "job swapping": While your caregiver is helping you with a task, offer to help him or her by doing something that is easy for you to do.
- Plan your day.So you don't wear yourself out doing too many strenuous activities at once, spend a little time each morning organizing your time so that there are periods of planned rest between activities that are more strenuous.
- Streamline your space.Make your home as efficient as possible by keeping things you use in the area where you use them. For instance, keep dishtowels right by the sink and your shoes by the back door so you can save your energy by not walking around unnecessarily.
- Manage anxiety.Anxiety is common in COPD patients, and it can spiral out of control. "Anxiety leads to shortness of breath, which leads to more anxiety, which leads to more shortness of breath, and so on," says Weary. Engage in activities that relax you, such as reading a book or listening to music, and practice your breathing exercises when you do feel anxiety creeping in.
Receiving a COPD diagnosis will inevitably change your life. But taking steps to make your day-to-day activities a little easier will help you avoid some of the frustration and discomfort that often come with the change.
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