COPD, Asthma, and You: Reducing Stress with Music

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Reducing stress and anxiety can greatly improve the lives of persons with COPD or severe asthma. Telling people to reduce stress, however, does about as much good as telling someone with insomnia to get more sleep. The trick is how to do it and get the desired result.

Upon reviewing several sources of advice about the importance of reducing stress and anxiety for those with COPD, we’ve concluded that listening to music should be added to most lists of helpful strategies. After all, recent discovery of 40,000-year-old flutes shows that humans have been creating and enjoying music for a very long time.

The Reinforcing Cycle of Breathing Difficulty and Stress

Impaired ability to breathe can induce stress and anxiety for several reasons.

Those who receive a diagnosis of COPD typically report feeling stress from having to cope with a life-altering condition. Impaired breathing can now make daily tasks more difficult. Doing things that they enjoy might become more difficult or even impossible. Having to depend on others can produce feelings of guilt and stress. And in addition to feeling anxious about their own health, COPD patients are often concerned about the well-being of their families financially and in other ways. Finally, shortness of breath itself is stressful.

Conversely, stress and anxiety can lead to increased difficulty in breathing. We all know that feeling when we encounter physical threat. And how many times has someone told us, when we are upset or anxious, to take a deep breath? For COPD patients, taking that deep breath can sometimes be challenging. And that can lead to additional stress.

The cycle is mutually reinforcing: difficulty in breathing can induce stress and anxiety; stress and anxiety can increase difficulty in breathing.

So how can you relax and improve the situation? Have you thought about the benefits of listening to music?

Benefits of Listening to Music

Extensive scientific research confirms what most people know intuitively: listening to music conveys several benefits.

Music Can Reduce Stress

Studies of patients who undergo surgery or cancer treatments demonstrate that music can increase levels of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin that produce feelings of well-being, calm, and connection to others. This is especially true of listening to music with slow tempo and pitch, as in “spa” music, some classical music, or slow jazz without lyrics.

So when you have encountered an exacerbation or other stressful situation, try listening to your favorite calming music, perhaps while engaging in yoga or meditation.

Music Can Reduce Fatigue

Scientific studies also indicate that music can be energizing. Think about playing music to help you stay awake while driving or engaging in a repetitive task. Try listing to some catchy tunes during meal preparation or cleanup to make things a bit easier.

Music Can Reduce Pain

An analysis of 90 different studies in 2016 concluded that listening to music reduced acute and chronic pain more effectively than medication alone.

Music Improves Mood

Several studies have shown that listening to music can enhance one’s mood and sense of well-being. It can also reduce feelings of fear, loneliness, and anger in people who face serious or chronic illness.

Other Methods to Reduce Stress

Experts often recommend the following methods to reduce stress and anxiety.

  • Pursed lip breathing during which you breathe in through your nostrils for 2 seconds and exhale slowly through pursed lips for 4 seconds
  • Belly breathing in which you place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen while inhaling slowly so that your belly rises while your chest remains still; exhale slowly
  • Avoiding or limiting activities and situations in your life that you find stressful
  • Getting regular, safe exercise
  • Eating a nutritious, COPD-friendly diet
  • Keeping your lungs free of smoke and pollutants
  • Practicing yoga, mindfulness meditation, or visualization


It is important for persons with COPD to disrupt the cycle of breathing difficulty and stress. In addition to several helpful methods for doing so, listening to music can be especially effective in helping you to relax. It is also just plain fun and one of the truly enjoyable pleasures of life.

If you listen to music with a family member or someone else, a feeling of connectedness can arise. But if you are concerned that your music will disturb others around you, try on a good set of earphones. Either way, your daily experience will likely be more pleasant.


Everyday Health, 7 Stress Management Tips for COPD.

Harvard Medical School, Harvard Health Publishing, Music and Health.

Healthline, The Link Between COPD Flare-Ups and Stress Management.

Living Well with COPD, Managing Your Stress and Anxiety (downloadable PDF).

MedlinePlus, COPD—managing stress and your mood.

National Emphysema Foundation, Coping with COPD: Reduce Stress.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) publications: The Effects of Music on Pain: A Meta-Analysis

National Institutes of Health (NIH) publications: Strategies to improve anxiety and depression in patients with COPD: a mental health perspective.

Pulmonary Education and Research Foundation, 6 Stress Management Techniques for COPD Sufferers.