Reviewed by Kristen E. Holm, PhD, MPH

While you may be the one with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), everyone who loves you also suffers from the illness. They suffer because they hate to see you uncomfortable and unable to do the things they know you enjoy. In addition, stress levels can rise as roles change and family goals and plans have to be re-evaluated or changed.

Over the course of the illness, you and your family will face different types of challenges and will respond to these with different types of coping actions. Understanding how these coping methods are different, and learning when to use each type, can help families deal with the stresses of COPD.


General COPD Challenges and Coping Methods

The challenges of COPD typically begin long before the diagnosis. However, when you find out for sure that you have COPD, you are likely going to feel lots of emotions like sadness, fear, anger, guilt, worry, and anxiety. This is an important time for you and your family. Be open about sharing these feelings with your loved ones. Talk it out, cry together, hug each other, talk about how the diagnosis may change your lives, then plan how to pursue treatment together.


Types of Challenges and Your Family's Response

  • Acute Challenges
    One type of challenge is an acute challenge. This is when something happens suddenly that makes the situation worse. Some examples of acute challenges are exacerbations such as lung infections, or trips to the emergency room due to some source of unusual excitement or anxiety.
    • Response to Acute Challenges
      Usually, with a short burst of extra effort by you and by your support network, an acute challenge gets better or is solved. Family members rally together to support you and each other. 
  • Chronic Challenges
    The second type of challenge is a "chronic" challenge. This is a long-standing, slowly progressive problem that is not likely to go away or be "cured." Role changes are a chronic challenge that may lead to frustration and guilt. You may find it difficult to accept role changes such as not being able to shop or cook for your family like you used to; not being able to do as many household chores like cleaning, yard work, or shoveling snow; or not being able to entertain over the holidays in as elaborate a fashion. Having to carry supplemental oxygen and managing medications can also be chronic challenges.
    • Response to Chronic Challenges
      For chronic challenges, the better coping response may be to understand what the loss has meant for you and your family. Once you determine this, try to find a way to recover the value of what was lost, rather than recovering the exact same activity. If you can't ski together as a family anymore, maybe you can enjoy family walks. If not walks, maybe scheduled family dinners or game night. The sharing and togetherness doesn't have to be lost, it may just take a different road to get there. The only way to do this is by engaging in reflective thought and open communication with your family and support group. Try to be proactive and creative - with the right attitude, you can solve the problems chronic challenges present. 


Managing Your COPD Together Over Time

It's important to recognize that, over time, managing your COPD will require both types of response - sometimes for the same event. For instance, if you become acutely ill at a family event, it may require an acute response, maybe even a trip to the emergency room. Not only will the family be concerned about your well-being, but you will all also be dealing with the disappointment of having to cut short your "play time" together. Once the immediate crisis has passed, you and your family will need to recognize when to relax your vigilance from the crisis and switch to finding a way to manage any changes for the long haul. This may include finding new ways to play together.

Step 5: Medication Effects List


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