Dealing With Isolation

Isolating yourself happens so gradually that sometimes you barely even notice you're doing it. At first you may stop going to your walking group, because breathlessness makes it hard to keep up with the others. Then you decide to skip your book club or weekly card game—maybe you're worried that others are staring at you because you've lost weight or need oxygen to help you to breathe. Finally, even things like church attendance go by the wayside—because you simply don't have the energy to go or don't want to ask someone to help you to get there. Many people with COPD find that they're isolating themselves more and more often as the disease worsens.

But as easy as it is to forgo social activities when you have a progressive disease like COPD, it's important to know that isolation in itself can cause stress, making your overall health suffer. People who have no social ties often find themselves lonely, anxious and depressed. Research shows that people with social ties, whether family, friends, neighbors, or a church community, live longer and are happier.

Why is this so? Scientists aren't able to say exactly why, but it may be because having contact with people makes you feel less alone and helps you to focus on something beside yourself. And many people find that they take better care of their health when they're accountable to another person.

If you live alone and have few contacts with anyone other than medical personnel, here are some ideas for lessening your degree of isolation:

Ask your doctor if there is a COPD support group in your area.

Sometimes it helps to know that there are others who are facing the same struggles as you are.

Make use of community services.

Many communities have volunteer visitation programs, library services, Meals on Wheels, and other services for shut-ins. Some churches and synagogues provide volunteer visitors or even a recording of weekly religious services for you to watch at home.

Join the electronic age.

If you're comfortable using a computer, keep in touch with friends and family via e-mail or Skype.

Swallow your pride.

Try to remember that it feels good to help someone else. Allow others to give you a hand getting to church or a group meeting, or to pick up some groceries you need. Invite them in afterwards for a cup of tea or coffee.