As you know, earlier this year I was diagnosed with COPD in addition to the cancer I have been living with for more than two years. For now, the cancer seems to just sit there slowly growing and doesn't get in my way day to day.
COPD, however, affects all my life when I'm not sitting or lying down. To not lose my breath, I walk slowly now - indoors and out - and when I forget, I pay for it, heaving to get my breath back as I grab for the rescue inhaler.
In old age, being short of breath might happen to anyone even if you're not a former cigarette smoker. A long time ago I read somewhere that after age 20 or so, people lose about one percent of their lung capacity each year, and when I asked one of my physicians about that, he told me that's basically correct.
So an occupational therapist has been added to my list of medical providers. It's her job to help me make the most of my life by showing me how to do everyday things that have become more difficult with impaired breathing.
At my first visit, she gave me a two-page list of instructions on how to conserve the limited supply of energy I now have, and I was surprised at how much of this I already do, have always done.
Things like avoiding unnecessary steps, mixing up heavy with light physical tasks, sliding objects instead of lifting them. Even the obvious things on the list are useful as reminders and I do them now because I must rather than, as before, because I can be monumentally lazy.
The section of the instructions that was mostly new to me and therefore most valuable was on stress management. I had noticed that when I'm running late or trying to control my anger (nay, rage) at the difficulties in sorting out my Medicare Part D options, I lose my breath even while I'm sitting still.
Stress, it turns out, causes shortness of breath. You may know that but I didn't.
Here are the instructions for stress management that appear to be simple, even obvious, but things I need to relearn in this new context. Maybe they are helpful to you too.
⏺ Set realistic goals
⏺ Live in the present, not the past or future
⏺ Think about what you can do, instead of what you cannot do
⏺ Accept what cannot be changed
⏺ Practice good posture and breathing techniques
⏺ Eat nutritious food
⏺ Learn from your successes AND your mistakes
⏺ Listen to your body
⏺ Save time and energy for fun
⏺ Ask questions; take control of your illness; don't let it control you
The instructions also cover Scheduling, Pacing, Simplifying, Organizing in addition to Stress Management. They are from the Physical and Occupational Therapy department at Oregon Health and Science University. Click below to download it.