Techniques to ease anxiety from lung disease, COPD

NORTH PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Getting a new diagnosis often triggers a flood of questions and uncertainties. And with lung ailments, that stress can turn into physical anxiety, adding to the breathing problems.

Patient support groups can go a long way to ease that tension.

Ronny Neal of Germantown vividly remembers his COPD diagnosis -- it came on his birthday.

"It was frightening because I didn't know what it was," recalls Neal.

But he quickly learned that COPD threatened his breathing, so he stopped a 30-year smoking habit quickly.

Neal thought he was doing pretty well, until a serious attack landed him at Temple University Hospital.

There, he learned a lot more was available to help him through COPD.

He found clinical trials to help his symptoms, and a support group to ease his anxiety.

Nurse Practitioner Michelle Vega-Olivo says anxiety is especially hard on lung patients.

"Their heart rates go up and the respiratory drive goes up, making it harder for patients to breathe, causing more shortness of breath on top of their lung disease," says Vega-Olivo about the vicious cycle some patients experience.

And COPD itself is often misunderstood.

"It's like our disease is difficult to explain to the regular person," says Neal.

So it's important to be around others having similar experiences.

"They don't feel as alone, they're able to come and speak to other people who have the same type of illnesses or even the same type of feelings," says Vega-Olivo.

"They're able to share their coping mechanisms," she continues.

Neal says many people with COPD are timid about doing things, afraid their shortness of breath will embarrass them.

That can lead to more and more inactivity, the opposite of what ailing lungs need.

Neal, on the other hand, found the confidence to be a gym regular at the Salvation Army's Kroc Center.

"I've been a member for about 6, 7 years you know, I go there 2 or 3 times a week," says Neal, a regular treadmill user.

"Now I can walk a couple bocks, and walk a mile," he notes.

Vega-Olivo says lung patients need to identify any feelings of anxiety early on after their diagnosis, and to learn techniques to calm themselves or even how to breathe.

It can make medical treatments more effective.
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