Overcoming Psychological COPD Challenges


Where’s Your Head At?

COPD ChallengesThere are many challenges in dealing with COPD, but one I see too many struggle with is their frame of mind. While we can put all the other systems in place like support networks and exercise regimes, we still have to have the strength of mind – a type of mental fitness – to cope with the ongoing physical challenges we confront.

‘Poor Me’

One of the most destructive psychological challenges I see people with chronic illness battle with is what I call ‘poor me’ syndrome. You don’t have to look too hard on COPD social media sites and forums to find people who have decided that it’s too hard and they’re never getting better, so why bother?

Don’t get me wrong; I know it’s terrifying to be faced with not knowing where your next breath is coming from, but in life there are people who are proactive with there health and there are people who are inactive with their health – much of who how each type deals with challenges comes down to their mindset.

It might sound harsh, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it frustrating. If there’s something in your life you’re not happy with, isn’t it better to work on it rather than complain about it?

Which one of these questions applies to you?

  • I walk 10 feet and I’m out of breath how can I exercise?
  • I walk 10 feet and I’m out of breath how can I fix this?

If the second question applies to you, then your mindset is going in the right direction. If you’re more familiar with the first question, then there’s some work to be done.

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Mind Over Matter

Being a COPD patient with a lung function less than 30% gives me a pretty good idea of how it feels to have severe breathing restrictions. As possibly the only person with this condition to still actively compete in triathlon and Ironman races, I have learnt some very valuable skills to help cope with COPD.

June 10, 2014 was the day I realized just how much your mind can control outcomes in your life. It was the day of Cairns Ironman, and a challenging day in more ways than one. I’d been training solidly, six days a week for ten months, and had completed the Melbourne Ironman just 12 weeks prior. I was mentally fried when I arrived in Cairns and struggling to get my head right for the race – not good only four days out.

The weather in Cairns was wet and windy, and while I can cope with the rain, swimming, cycling and running into a strong wind takes its toll on someone already competing against the odds. On race morning I woke to a howling wind and torrential rain and my immediate thought was, I hope they cancel the race. No such luck.

I drove to the race venue in horrible weather and walked through mud just to get to the race start. Once there I was faced with a 3.8km swim in an angry ocean, a 180km ride over a hilly bike course in wind and rain, and a 42.2 km run over a flooded run course.

Next page: breaking up your goals into manageable chunks, and choosing to make a change. 

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