Stay positive and stop your world from shrinking

We’re often told that ‘staying positive’ is good for us, but what does this really mean in practice?

GSK's Dr Mitra Vahdati-Bolouri, who has supported COPD patients for more than 20 years, shares her experience of how people with COPD have overcome negative thoughts. 

COPD can have a profound effect on people living with the disease. Not surprisingly, patients often struggle to remain positive, and many people talk about the way their illness affects their outlook on life.

For some, the physical symptoms of their illness make them feel like their world has become smaller and more limited; everyday activities which would once have been easy for them to carry out, eventually become a real effort, or may no longer be possible.

Others may feel they’re becoming more socially isolated, reluctant to leave the house because of symptoms, a lack of confidence, anxiety or even embarrassment.

Each week, I speak to people with COPD who are feeling low. Living with a chronic lung condition can affect your confidence, and the restrictive nature of some of the physical symptoms of the illness may have a big impact.

For some, this even leads to depression or anxiety, which doesn’t just affect people emotionally – it also impacts their ability to manage their condition.

Some patients can be reluctant to discuss their symptoms or even acknowledge they are depressed. But often their lung symptoms may improve with treatment of their depression or anxiety, so it’s very important for clinicians to be vigilant, and for patients to feel they can discuss their low mood with their doctor, or friends and family.

Anyone who feels they’re experiencing depression or anxiety should speak with their doctor about getting support.

Here are some additional thoughts: 

  • Spot the signs your mood is becoming low on a consistent basis, and your world is getting smaller – and resist!
    Are you getting out of the house every day? Or is it more like once a week? Social isolation can lead to depression and a serious decline in physical health and wellbeing. If you find it hard to reach out and connect to others, talk to your doctor, who may be able to recommend a local support group. 

  • Join a local club or get involved with local community groups
    Find out if there’s a local club or meet up group that focuses on activities that bring people together. Many areas have COPD support groups which meet regularly and provide opportunities for meeting other patients and engaging in regular exercise. These support groups can normally be found through your local COPD patient organisation (e.g. Breathe Easy available through the British Lung Foundation in the UK).

    One of my patients started a local walking group for patients with chronic lung conditions, and found that not only did she benefit enormously from the social contact and regular exercise, but she was also able to provide this benefit to other patients. 

  • Take part in regular physical activity and focus on activities you actually enjoy.
    There are many studies which have looked at the benefits of various types of activities on COPD, and the key is to find something you’re going to want to continue on a regular basis – be it walking, cycling, yoga, or tai chi (all of which have been found to have significant benefits in COPD).

  • Get online
    It’s a great way to stay in touch with people, as well as finding out more information about your disease and treatment options, which may help you feel more empowered and in control. Patient groups such as the BLF in the UK and the COPD Foundation in the US have great information for patients.

The impact of COPD isn’t just physical – it can impact confidence and your perspective on life. I urge all my patients to try not to give in to negative feelings, which can lead to poor management of your health and yet more negative thoughts.

Keeping your social horizons open, remaining motivated and staying as active as possible can help you stay positive and break this cycle.