Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. Stress and worry are normal reactions to situations where a person feels under pressure and usually pass once the stressful situation has passed, or the ‘stressor’ is removed. 

However, for people experiencing anxiety, the stress and worry can be overwhelming, happen for no apparent reason or continue after the stressful event has passed. For a person experiencing anxiety, anxious feelings cannot be brought under control easily. Anxiety can be a serious condition that makes it hard for a person to cope with daily life. There are many types of anxiety and many people with anxiety experience symptoms of more than one type. 

While we all may experience some anxious feelings, anxiety has a disabling impact on the person’s life. Anxiety can be expressed in different ways such as uncontrollable worry, intense fear (phobias or panic attacks), upsetting dreams or flashbacks of a traumatic event. 

Watch the video below to learn more about the symptoms of anxiety:

Evidence shows that anxiety and panic attacks are more common in people with COPD than in the general population.

The prevalence of one anxiety disorder in particular, panic disorder, is approximately 10 times greater in COPD than the population prevalence of 1.5 – 3.5%, and panic attacks are commonly experienced.

Living with COPD is one of many things – such as a family history of mental health conditions, stressful life events and personality factors – that may trigger anxiety. Feeling unable to breathe is a frightening experience and for some people may result in a panic attack. When a person is breathless, they worry they aren’t getting enough air and this causes anxiety. Anxiety then makes the person breathe harder and faster and this worsens the feelings of breathlessness, resulting in panic.

The link between breathlessness, anxiety and panic attacks can also increase social isolation for a person with COPD. The uncertainty of coping, being able to climb stairs or walk a long distance may create anxiety and this results in avoidance of social situations where this might be required or unknown.

Medicines can also cause symptoms that increase anxiety. Over-use of reliever medicine can also add to the anxiety symptom of a racing heart.

In COPD, anxiety has been linked to greater disability, increased frequency of hospital admissions for acute exacerbations and breathlessness. The good news is, just like a physical condition, depression is treatable and effective treatments are available.