Stress levels are on the raise as the world grapples with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It can be difficult to navigate through these strange times. Those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are at an even greater risk of battling depression, stress, and anxiety. Being stressed can make COPD symptoms worse. Learning to cope with the stress can make all the difference. In this article we will go over the affect of stress on those with chronic illness, how that can effect oxygen therapy, and how you can manage your stress level. Let’s dive in.

How Does Stress Affect Those With Chronic Illness?

Did you know that stress is your body’s security alarm? When you are stressed your pupils dilate, your pulse increases, your breathing rate increases, and it triggers your body to fight or flee to safety. However, that old saying that too much of anything is not good for you applies here. While stress is nature’s way of alerting us, too much or consistent stress can mess with the hormones and chemicals in your brain, causing those hormones and chemical that are helpful in stressful situations to become harmful. Chronic stress affects your health and impacts chronic illnesses you might be battling already.

How Are Stress and Oxygen Levels Related?

When you get stressed, you start to breathe faster yet less efficiently than normal. Those shallow breaths don’t do a good job at sending oxygen to your blood. Instead those shallow breaths lower your oxygen levels, triggering you to breathe faster in order to get the level of oxygen your body needs. This causes your respiratory system to overreact, eventually causing shortness of breath. For people with lung disease, this is a big problem. Lack of oxygen might make someone with lung health issues even more scared and stressed, only continuing this cycle of unhealthy overdrive breathing.

How Can You Manage Stress and Oxygen Levels?

Sometimes stress is just inevitable. Don’t be too hard on yourself when it happens. All you have the power to do is learn to get in tune with your mind and body to better manage the stress when it appears.

Check in with yourself by using Dr. Sue Varma’s 4 M’s of Mental Health Checklist:

  1. Movement: Anything indoor and outdoor activities.
  2. Mindfulness: Spend 10 minutes doing breathing exercises,
  3. Meaningful Engagement: Have open conversations with people you can trust.
  4. Mastery: Do something you are good at, something that allows you to be creative, focused.

Train your body to breathe better using the “Calming Breath” method:

  1. Straighten your posture, whether you’re sitting upright or standing.
  2. Begin with a long, slow breath through your nose, first filling your lower lungs, then your upper lungs. Place a hand on your belly to feel it expand.
  3. Hold your breath to the count of three.
  4. Exhale slowly through your mouth, making sure you relax your body, especially your face, neck, shoulders, and torso.

Another potentially helpful breathing technique is called belly breathing:

  1. While sitting or lying down, place a hand on your chest. Place the other hand on your abdomen.
  2. Inhale through the nostrils.
  3. Feel your belly rise, while attempting to keep your chest still.
  4. Exhale slowly.
  5. Repeat until you feel calmer and the anxiety dissipates.

Check out other breathing exercises on our Live Actively blog.