4 Tips for Combatting PFT Anxiety

Pulmonary function tests (PFTs) are a standard component of quarterly cystic fibrosis clinic visits, but they can often cause a great deal of stress for people with CF. Here are a few strategies that I've found helpful for reducing my own PFT anxiety.

| 5 min read
Megan Lepore

I have been known to work myself into an emotional lather about my health, particularly when it comes to doctor's appointments. This is especially true when it comes to pulmonary function tests (PFTs). My mind races along with my pulse as I wonder what the day's numbers will bring. I think to myself, “How do I feel today? Better than my last appointment? Or the same? The same would be fine. Did I get enough sleep last night? If the number is bad, what's the worst that will happen? Inhaled antibiotics? IVs? Would they admit me ... today?”

And on, and on, and on.

A few months ago, I found myself nodding enthusiastically as I read Somer Love's blog post about PFT anxiety. No matter how stable my health has been, PFTs still haunt me.

Before my most recent clinic appointment, however, I decided to prepare a bit differently. And while I can't say I was 100 percent worry-free, I did find that these four strategies helped reduce my PFT anxiety:

  1. Monitor PFTs at home. In recent years, I have been monitoring my forced expiratory volume (FEV1) at home with a handheld PFT device that my doctor recommended. I usually don't look at the number, choosing not to become emotionally attached to the ups and downs that I experience over time. Instead, my husband looks at my results and logs them in a spreadsheet every few weeks.
    If I'm close to baseline, my husband typically just records the numbers and we move along with our day. But, we also know that my CF care team wants to know if my FEV1 dips below a certain level, so my husband will tell me if my number is low enough to warrant a call to the doctor. Occasionally, he will share an unusually high number with me so that we can celebrate together.
    We usually try to do a home PFT a few days before I go into clinic, which helps alleviate some of the stress I feel at the appointment. If the number is fine, that's great; if it's low, we know that I'll soon have an opportunity to meet with my doctor and figure out a plan to move forward.
  2. Minimize stressful activities on clinic day. While I typically go to work for a few hours before going to clinic in the afternoon, I ended up having to (serendipitously) take the entire day off before my most recent appointment. Unlike most clinic days, I wasn't rushing around to get to clinic on time or dealing with the stress of work. Instead, I was able to have a calm couple of hours to make myself a healthy lunch, and, for the first time in recent memory, exercise before clinic. Which leads me to strategy number three …
  3. Do yoga. My body and mind always feel better after a workout. So, a couple of hours before my appointment, I rolled out my yoga mat, chose a 20-minute yoga workout video on YouTube, and got started -- all from the comfort of my home. Although I knew that any workout would be beneficial, I find yoga to be particularly helpful for “warming up” my lungs, as the motions of the body are very well coordinated with the breath. Getting a little bit of time on my yoga mat had a calming effect for me as I went about my day and onto clinic.
    Employing strategy #3: Following an online yoga workout at home to open up my lungs and calm my nerves.
  4. Find a calming website in the waiting room. As I sat in the waiting room listening for the respiratory therapist to call me into the PFT lab, I could feel my anxiety start to creep back in. But this time, I decided to combat it and remembered that the smartphone in my hand could do more than distract me with Facebook and Twitter. I searched the web for “calming websites” and quickly settled on a site that simply played the sounds of the ocean. I gently closed my eyes and listened to the tide rolling in and out. Very quickly, I could feel my anxiety start to subside. A couple of minutes later, my name was called, and instead of walking toward the PFT room as a bundle of nerves, I returned from a mental mini-vacation.

I know I may not be able to employ each of these strategies before every future appointment, and I'm sure that managing my PFT anxiety will continue to be a moving target. But, I'm encouraged to know that with a little extra preparation, there is hope for loosening PFT anxiety's grasp -- one deep breath at a time.

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Emotional Wellness

Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at four months, Megan received a Master of Public Policy degree with a certificate in health policy from Duke University after earning a BA and MA from Stanford University. Megan has spent her career working in health policy, focusing on Medicaid. In 2019, she joined the governance board of the Cystic Fibrosis Reproductive and Sexual Health Collaborative, a nationwide online collaborative committed to responding to the needs of the CF community through partnerships that pave the way for improved sexual and reproductive health resources, healthcare, and knowledge for people with CF. Megan enjoys dance, barre fitness, and yoga. She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with her husband, Bobby, and son, Henry.

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