In addition to my COPD treatment, are there techniques or strategies I can use to help me feel less breathless?
Yes. Shortness of breath is a common COPD symptom. It can happen during some activities, when you're stressed and, sometimes, for no clear reason. Feeling short of breath can lead to anxiety and even more shortness of breath. You may relax and recover more quickly if you use a couple of breathing techniques. Learning new ways to breathe can help you control your breathing pattern and feel short of breath less often.
Slow, pursed-lip breathing
Pursed-lip breathing helps you think about breathing out slowly, which may help you stay calm when you're short of breath. To practice this technique:
- Try to focus on your breathing, and be mindful about it.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose, if possible, but don't inhale fully. Aim for a breath that's a bit smaller than a completely relaxed breath.
- Purse your lips by making a small O shape with your lips, as if you're going to blow out a candle.
- Breathe out slowly and gently through the pursed lips. This should take about twice as long as breathing in, because the air has to go out through the small opening in your lips.
- Limit the number of breaths you take each minute as much as is comfortable.
Relaxed breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, may help slow down your breathing and relax muscle tension. This can improve your physical and mental health.
Practice this breathing three times a day for eight to 10 breaths each. Over time, you should be able to breathe this way easily — so you can do it when you need to.
- Loosen tight clothing around your belly and waist.
- Sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor.
- Put one hand on your chest and another across your belly while you breathe, so that you're more aware of your breathing.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose. You should notice your belly expand when you do.
- Breathe out at your normal rate or slower, relaxing your neck and shoulders.
Practice these techniques every day, when you're not short of breath, until they become natural for you to do. To ease breathlessness, it may also help to:
- Take your time. Don't rush through chores and other activities to get through them, because it can actually make you feel more breathless.
- Avoid holding your breath. This can become a habit when you're doing something hard. Instead, try to breathe out during the hardest part of an activity.
- Sit or stand in front of a fan. Place the fan so that it blows into your face.
In addition to these techniques, make sure to talk to your doctor about when to use certain medications, such as a rescue inhaler.
March 01, 2019
- Barbara Woodward Lips Patient Education Center. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2013.
- Protecting your lungs: Breathing exercises. American Lung Association. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/protecting-your-lungs/breathing-exercises.html. Accessed Feb. 4, 2019.
- Breathlessness. American Thoracic Society. https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/breathlessness.pdf. Accessed Feb. 4, 2019.
- Olson EJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 8, 2019.