COPD Coping with COPD

It’s a Family Affair

Man and granddaughter playing video gameA diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can seem like devastating news. A life with COPD is different from a life without COPD, and coping with these changes is a significant challenge to overcome. The good news is that people with COPD can continue to live active, full lives. 

COPD and Your Family
While you may be the one with COPD, everyone who loves you is also affected by the illness. Your loved ones hate to see you uncomfortable and unable to do the things they know you enjoy. In addition, stress levels can rise as roles change and your family re-evaluates its goals and plans. When challenges arise, having an understanding of the best methods for coping with them can help you and your family deal with the stresses of COPD.

There’s Nothing Wrong with Needing Help

With COPD, you may feel less able to do many of the tasks that you have always done for yourself. You may feel that you’re not “pulling your weight.” The amount of support you need from time to time may differ, but it’s important to recognize that you do need help. Finding and accepting that help is an essential part of caring for yourself. Take some time to think about the following questions:
• Is there someone who has been trying to help that you’ve turned down?
• Have you thanked those who have helped or are helping you? Can you think of a new way to say thanks?
• What makes it hard for you to ask for or accept help from others?
• Can you think of some other sources of support you haven’t utilized? How about support groups? Extended family? Religious community?

You may be the one with COPD, but everyone who loves you and is involved in your life is also affected by your disease. They care about you and want to help make your life easier. By allowing the people around you to help, you will feel better because you have more choices, and they will feel better because you’re doing better.

Challenges and Coping Methods  The challenges of COPD typically begin long before the diagnosis. However, when you find out for sure that you have COPD, you will likely experience difficult emotions, such as sadness, fear, anger, guilt, and worry. Share these feelings with your loved ones. Discuss how the diagnosis may change your lives, and then plan how to pursue treatment as a team.
Acute Challenges  One type of challenge you may face is an acute challenge. This is when something happens suddenly that makes your situation worse. Examples of acute challenges include disease exacerbations, such as lung infections, or trips to the emergency room due to some source of unusual excitement or anxiety. In these situations, you and your family members should rally together to support each other. Usually, a short burst of extra effort by you and by your support network can resolve an acute challenge. 
Chronic Challenges  The second type of challenge is a chronic challenge, a long-standing, slowly progressive problem that is not likely to go away. Familial role changes are a chronic challenge that can lead to frustration and guilt. You may find it difficult to accept role changes, for instance, if you’re not able to shop or cook for your family like you used to; do as many household chores, like cleaning, yard work, or shoveling snow; or entertain over the holidays in as elaborate a fashion as in previous years. Having to carry supplemental oxygen and managing medications can also be chronic challenges.

For chronic challenges, the better coping response may be to understand what the situation has meant for you and your family. Once you determine the impact of the situation, try to find a way to recover the value of what was lost rather than the ability to do that exact same activity. Be proactive and creative. For example, if you can’t ski together as a family anymore, maybe you can enjoy family walks. If not walks, perhaps scheduled dinners or game nights will make up for the lost family bonding time. 

Managing Your COPD Together Long Term  Over time, managing your COPD will require both types of response – sometimes for the same situation. For instance, if you become acutely ill at a family event, it may require an acute response, maybe even a trip to the emergency room. Not only will the family be concerned about your well-being, but also you will all be dealing with the disappointment of having to cut short your time together. Once the immediate crisis has passed, you and your family will need to come up with a chronic response to the crisis. Work together to decide what long-term changes can be made in order to avoid similar crises in the future.

Source: National Jewish Health,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, WINTER November 2014-February 2015.