How I eliminate the COPD ‘garden weeds’ of my mind

A columnist shares her remedies for negative comments and self-talk

Caroline Gainer avatar

by Caroline Gainer |

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As a gardener, I sometimes imagine my mind as a garden full of various plants. Advocating for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients while living with the disease myself sometimes causes a few weeds to grow in my mind.

I’ve written about how advocacy helps me stay motivated. It also means, however, that I’m exposed to the negative thoughts and feelings of the people I’m trying to help. Whether the negative thought originated from me or someone else, it takes up residence in my brain, so I must be vigilant in replacing it with a positive one.

I have lots of tools in my garden shed to help me eliminate the weeds. Sometimes I’ll simply take time off from advocating. Or I’ll speak with a therapist. Other times, I’ll use positive self-talk to exterminate the weeds from my mind.

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My types of weeds

Some of my mental weeds are like dandelions, with deep roots that hang on with a lot of force. For me, the dandelion of mind weeds is fatigue, which is a common COPD symptom. One way I manage it is by taking supplements to help me sleep.

But fatigue is also a symptom of other conditions I have, such as Graves’ disease and anemia. Should it rear its ugly head again, I must be diligent in determining what’s causing it. Finding the root cause of fatigue and ways to deal with it are essential for living life to the fullest.

Another pesky, weedlike plant is the swamp buttercup, which runs along the ground and takes root wherever it touches. The negative thought that matches this plant is “I can’t.” Truth be told, I find that there’s little I can’t do, even with COPD. I might have to do it differently or a little more slowly, but I can still do it. So when this mind weed grows, I must remember that I’m actually capable.

To pull this mind weed, I remind myself of ways I can still live my best life. I can still have fresh vegetables that I grow myself — maybe not in the gardens of my past, but in raised beds. I can still weed and fertilize them, but I don’t use the hoe as I used to do in my other gardens. I just need to pull the weeds or use a little trowel, which is much easier to do anyway.

This sprawling “I can’t” plant takes over many activities that people with chronic illness like to do, such as traveling. Though I can no longer fly because of the risk of a pneumothorax, or collapsed lung, I can still travel by car, train, and bus. It may take longer to reach my destination, but I’m retired, so who cares about time?

When the “I can’t” vine wraps itself around our ability to breathe, it causes us to panic. When that happens, we need to stop and say, “I know what to do,” then lean forward on a railing, table, or our knees and begin controlled breathing exercises.

My favorite form of controlled breathing is pursed lip breathing. This technique entails breathing in through the nose for a count of two, then puckering the lips and blowing out for a count of four to six.

If you struggle with COPD symptoms or negative thoughts, or if you feel that you’re going backward in your COPD journey, maybe you need to do some mental weeding to get back on track.

Note: COPD News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of COPD News Today or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.


Tom Krueger avatar

Tom Krueger

Well said Karen.

David A Sylvester avatar

David A Sylvester

"Mental weeding"---Love it---great phrase and great info
---Thanks Caroline

Susan Rossman avatar

Susan Rossman

Loved this lesson. You're very good at this. Thanks. I didn't know you could get a pneumothorax from flying! Good thing I don't fly. I fell, broke 3 ribs, however, and got a pneumothorax. Quite a set-back. Plus it hurt like heck when the tube was inserted.

Kelly Kindig avatar

Kelly Kindig


So well thought out and written! I like you love to garden, it's my great escape for awhile. I use extended oxygen lines in the yard. Stay active and push myself to continue on. I have the same as you COPD, Graves Disease, and RA. Stay strong and press on.
Happy Gardening!

george ward avatar

george ward

very good thank you

Mary avatar


Thank you for posting this article. I found it hit home with me in many ways. Since I was diagnosed with COPD in 2013 I have had many, many times founds myself being choked with the weeds you mentioned. I appreciate the inspiration and suggestions you share. Thanks again and keep well!

Marion oshunrinde avatar

Marion oshunrinde

Wonderful way to look at the seemingly undoable problem!

Katrina Etheridge avatar

Katrina Etheridge

I love wat you say about gardening,I call my garden my sanctuary when I start to worry about what I have asbestos an bronchiectasis which bending over in the garden causes me to cough an bring up loads of mucus which is there Al the time so thanks for your words about the garden


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