COPD and Worry: What is it?

  • “Worry is interest paid on trouble before it comes due.”
     - William Ralph Inge


    As an adult, you have a lot on your mind. In addition to the usual concerns about issues such as money, the well-being of children (even if they’re grown) and other loved ones, maintaining your home, transportation – all the basics – as a person with COPD you have additional concerns. Some of these may be: Keeping track of medical appointments and insurance coverage, making sure you’re taking your medications on time and correctly, getting where you need to go with enough breath to do what you’ve got to do – and more.

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    So, concerns are one thing, but do sometimes find yourself being overly concerned, with troublesome thoughts running through your head over and over again? Do you seem to be  occupied with fears of negative outcomes and pitfalls, unable to set those thoughts aside? At times, do you imagine every misfortune that might come along? Are you a worrier?

    Although I, myself, don’t have COPD, I have a confession to make. I struggle with being a worrier. In fact, at times I’ve been very good at it. I could think of something, just about anything, and if I wasn’t careful, I could – and I would – find a way to worry about it. If a loved one was five minutes late, I was sure an unimaginable tragedy had taken place. I’d lose sleep, raise my blood pressure, lose my appetite or eat too much, and be unable to focus. So, I know of what I speak.  But once I learned about worry, the grip it can have on me, and how I can free myself from that grip, I began to control my worry instead of it controlling me. Here, I share with you some things I’ve learned. I hope this will help you, too.

    What is worry?
    Before we talk specifically about worry and COPD, let’s talk about what worry is. Dr. Vijai Sharma, clinical psychologist, certified yoga instructor and a person with COPD himself, says, “The origin of the word “worry” offers interesting insights regarding the nature and function of worry. The English words, “worrowen,” “wirien, wyrgan, mean “to choke’ or “to strangle.” In Medieval English the verb “worry” meant "to gnaw," or to continually bite or tear something. Worries and chronic anxiety gnaw at us and, bit by bit, wear away our inner security and peace of mind. Worrying has an obsessive quality about it and is to chew over and over again that which has already been chewed.”

    What’s the difference between being concerned and being a worrier?
    You may be thinking:

    • Will I be breathing well enough tomorrow to keep that lunch date with my friends?
    • Next year at this time will I still be able to do what I’m doing now?
    • Will I get through this winter without going into the hospital overnight with pneumonia or acute bronchitis?
    • Will I be able to reach my seat at the restaurant without gasping for breath?
    • Will I live long enough to…?

    Sure, these things may cross your mind, indeed they may concern you, as they do in many people with COPD, but do you spend your time and energy worrying about them to the point that you’re unable to focus – or function? Thinking about something is different than obsessing about it and worrying about it.

  • Can worry be a good thing?

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    Stressful activities such as a test or a job interview can make anyone feel a bit anxious. Sometimes a little worry or anxiety is helpful. For instance, worrying about a job interview may urge you to be better prepared. Worrying that a police officer could issue you a ticket if you’re not wearing your seatbelt may prompt you to buckle up. That’s a good thing.

    So, what? I worry. What does it matter?
    Worry is more than a state of mind. It can be harmful to your well-being, and your health, in many ways.

    Watch for the next article in this series: How Does Worry Affect my Health?

    Thanks to Dr. Vijai Sharma, Ph.D., for sharing his wisdom in this article.

    Jane M. Martin is a licensed respiratory therapist, teacher and the founder and director of and author of Breathe Better, Live in Wellness and Live Your Life With COPD, scheduled for release Spring, 2011.

Published On: February 28, 2011