The holidays tend to bring with them a certain level of stress and, if you suffer from lung problems, you’ll need to take special care to try to avoid or lessen the impact of this stress on your lungs. You know yourself and, when you get caught up in the bustle and whirl of the holiday season, you stretch your reserves and may overextend yourself to the point that your breathing becomes more difficult.

Here are a few suggestions that may help you manage your body’s reaction to holiday stress:

First, if you use oxygen and/or other respiratory medications, don’t go without. Keep in mind that many of the medications you use help to keep your airways relaxed and open and allow you to breathe easier. Oxygen should be used as prescribed. It is the “fuel” that your body needs to keep it going and, just like gasoline for a car, if you don’t have any or run out, the car goes nowhere. When you have a respiratory disease, such as COPD, the mechanics of breathing are damaged or compromised, making it difficult to deliver oxygen to the rest of your body. When oxygen levels are low, you have to breathe harder to compensate. Fatigue can be a subtle, yet a very telling symptom. So when you think you’ve “run out of gas,” you probably have.

Next, you might want to consider recruiting your own “personal shopper” to help you manage shopping and gift giving. Teenage sons and daughters, grandchildren or nieces and nephews —are excellent candidates for this job. Create a list for your “shopper” with ideas for each person and, armed with a smart phone, he or she can locate and send you pictures of specific items for your approval. Your shopper may also want to consider taking advantage of local civic groups that offer gift-wrapping services at local stores or malls for a donation or nominal fee.

If you enjoy doing the shopping yourself, you can let your fingers do the walking by doing your gift shopping online or using catalogs and television home shopping networks. Most of these retailers will even wrap and ship your gifts directly to those on your list. If you prefer to do your own wrapping, sit down at a table to wrap your gifts making sure that pens, scissors, tape, ribbon and paper are all within easy reach. Consider using gift bags and decorative boxes to help you conserve even more time and energy.

Finally, there are all of the other preparations to consider – Cleaning, decorating, meal planning and parties are big parts of the holiday season and can often become overwhelming for someone with lung disease. If this becomes the case, just remember the 6 P’s of any project:

  • PLAN — Outline what you want to accomplish.
  • PRIORITIZE — Do the most important things first and then work through the rest of your to do list.
  • PACE yourself — Take frequent breaks and use the time to accomplish something on your list that can be done sitting in your best easy chair.  Remember to eat full meals and keep well hydrated as well.
  • POSITION — Sit and stand as straight up as possible. A Hunched over posture tends to limit your lung capacity even more.
  • PURSED-LIP Breathing — Exhale through pursed-lips (just like you would whistle) 2-3 times longer than you inhale. Use this exercise to control your breathing and lessen air trapping that increases shortness of breath. For more exercises designed to help you breathe easier, see this blog post [link to: exercising with COPD blog post].
  • PANIC NOT! — Take care of yourself and things will be taken care of. Try to adopt a philosophy of enjoying simpler holidays to help alleviate stress.

Remember, if you suffer from lung disease, it’s important to always keep your stress level under control – Not just during the holiday season. Ask for help if you need it and accept assistance if it is offered by friends and family to ensure you have a happy, healthy holiday season!