Coping with breathlessness is a complex and multidimensional challenge for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and involves interacting physiological, cognitive, affective, and psychosocial dimensions. The aim of this study was to explore how people with moderate to most severe COPD predominantly cope with breathlessness during daily living. We chose a multi-modal grounded theory design that holds the opportunity to combine qualitative and quantitative data to capture and explain the multidimensional coping behaviour among people with COPD. The participants' main concern in coping with breathlessness appeared to be an endless striving to economise on resources in an effort to preserve their integrity. In this integrity-preserving process, four predominant coping types emerged and were labelled: ‘Overrater’, ‘Challenger’, ‘Underrater’, and ‘Leveller’. Each coping type comprised distinctive physiological, cognitive, affective and psychosocial features constituting coping-type-specific indicators.
In theory, four predominant coping types with distinct physiological, cognitive, affective and psychosocial properties are observed among people with COPD. The four coping types seem to constitute a coping trajectory. This hypothesis should be further tested in a longitudinal study.