Managing Stress with Bronchiectasis and NTM

Posted on November 28, 2018   |   
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This blog post was written by Jane Martin, BA, LRT, CRT

If you have Bronchiectasis/NTM, you well know that the effects of this disease can result in major changes to your lifestyle and activities. And these changes, and challenges, are bound to cause stress. Looking at common causes of stress (stressors), coping skills and techniques, and how to use a stress log for managing stress brought on by Bronchiectasis/NTM are valuable ways to improve daily life.

Let’s start by looking at some stressors commonly found with Bronchiectasis/NTM. You may have one or more of these, and you may have others that are not on this list.

  • Eating issues and digestive problems
  • Body image issues with low weight
  • Uncontrollable cough leading to embarrassment and/or social isolation
  • Side effects of strong, frequently-used antibiotics
  • Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Fatigue or Exhaustion
  • Cancelling plans due to not feeling well

So, what does it take to get through this stress? It is important to note that what works for one person may not work for another. Here are some examples of coping skills and techniques that may be helpful.

  1. Try to avoid stressors when possible. If you’re going out to where there might be cold or flu germs, try not to shake hands, hug, or kiss. Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer, and write with your own pen.
  2. If you do encounter a stressor, try to modify your reaction, or your surroundings. For example, if you want to attend an event that requires more walking than you are able to do, ask to be dropped off at the entrance or use a wheel chair. Regarding the use of a wheelchair, try to not let your pride get in the way of spending time with loved ones at an event you want to attend.
  3. If you have to deal with a stressor that you cannot avoid or modify, remind yourself that it is normal to feel frustrated, or even angry. Just acknowledging this can help decrease your level of stress.
  4. Talk with somebody else who has experience with your condition, whether it is a fellow patient or a caregiver. The Bronch and NTM Info Line toll-free: 1-833-411-LUNG (5864) and our online community, BronchandNTM360social, both provide avenues to connecting with others.
  5. Try a variety of relaxation techniques such as progressive relaxation, visualization, yoga, Tai Chi, etc. Find what works best for you, and as you do, don’t forget to use basic, simple breathing techniques: pursed-lips breathing and diaphragmatic breathing. On this page you will also see the Dyspnea Cycle.

Just as it helps to express yourself by talking about your stressors, it can also help to write them down. Try keeping a stress log. Write in: what the stressor is, how you normally deal with it (or have in the past), and how you felt about it. Then, using the coping skills and techniques above, and/or talking with others with Bronchiectasis and/or NTM, the next time you encounter that stressor, try a new response. Write in this new response and how you felt about it. It may take some trial and error to find your own best solution, but keeping track in this way can help you find options and see more positive results.

You can make a stress log easily on lined paper, or on your computer by inserting a “table” into a document.

Here is an example:


First response


New response


Coughing in public with a large amount of mucus

Quickly left the event and went home in tears

Anxious, embarrassed, upset

Excused myself to the hallway and coughed there

In control, less anxious, less alone


Yes, you have good reason to be stressed because of your condition. You may lose some independence, have periodic bouts of depression, even tend to isolate yourself from friends and family. In doing so, you may feel anxious or overwhelmed – but there are solutions, and most of all there are friends who can help! Try some of these coping skills and techniques, reach out to those who can understand, and let us know how it goes.