Dealing with Psychological Symptoms of COPD

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a widespread but preventable and treatable respiratory condition. Symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, mucus production, however they are not limited to that. Patients with COPD often live with other symptoms, such as psychological issues. These psychological problems include clinical disorders like depression and anxiety, but these often remain neglected, even though they can have a profound impact on health and quality of life. In the following we will be discussing the non-pharmacological ways of recognition and treatment of the psychological burden caused by COPD.
Although medication for the psychological treatment is an option, it should be taken into account that non-pharmacological approaches may be a good option in cases where there is a considerable risk of drug interactions. Hence, it is valuable to look at the possible ways of psychological treatment.
The relationship between a COPD patient’s psychology and that person’s symptoms are mostly bidirectional, meaning that a high physiological burden due to COPD increases the chance of psychological distress development, while high distress increases the risk of worsening or developing COPD symptoms: An unwell mental health state may cause the person to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and activity avoidance due to depression.
Recognizing and managing the bidirectional relationship between psychological problems and COPD concerns through appropriate screening and assessment is crucial for improving the well-being and overall outcomes of individuals living with COPD. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), for instance, is considered an effective approach for addressing psychological distress in COPD. While its focus is on helping patients recognize the cognitive, emotional and physical aspects, which are contributing to their symptoms of depression and anxiety, it also helps them manage these feelings and thoughts and therefore can improve the patients’ quality of life.
A variant of CBT is Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). Combining mindfulness meditation with cognitive therapy, it seems to have proven itself to be promising when it comes to reducing depression symptoms in COPD. In addition to that, participants have reported a greater sense of control over their COPD symptoms.
Having gone over the western approaches to reduce the psychological burden of COPD without medication, we shall now have a look at the eastern approaches: Eastern mind-body practices like qigong, tai chi, and yoga have been explored in COPD. For instance, Tai chi has demonstrated positive effects on functional capacity, pulmonary function, dyspnea, fatigue, and quality of life but with uncertain effects on depression and anxiety. Yoga, for example, has shown improvements in exercise capacity and pulmonary function but mixed results for psychological distress.
To give you a completely new and surprising aspect, we also want to mention music therapy that has been used since ancient times. Music therapy, both passive (listening) and active (singing), has shown potential benefits to reduce anxiety. Not only that but singing has also proven to improve breathlessness and blood pressure. However,the evidence is still limited and requires further study.
What has been effective in both improving physical health and reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety is pulmonary rehabilitation. That is a comprehensive intervention which includes exercise, education, and behavior change. Pulmonary rehabilitation can also target disease-specific fears by performing exercises that aim to reduce certain symptoms, thus helping the patient feel better.
In order to gain maximum efficiency, it is of crucial importance to integrate psychological distress management into pulmonary rehabilitation and disease management programs. This way, the effectiveness of these interventions would be enhanced.
This is what we aim to do at Breathment. We offer an interactive and integrated option for the preventive treatment of COPD from the comfort of your own home. Not only do we provide our patients exercises to help them gain control over their physical symptoms, we also provide relaxation techniques and educational content for them to reduce their stress and understand COPD better. In addition to regular online health coaching, connect easily to ask questions: Your personal therapist is just a message or phone call away.
Book your first online therapy to find out more about our approach to respiratory care and about the Breathment Therapy App for free.