Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbations contribute significantly to morbidity and mortality. COPD is also associated with high levels of psychological distress, which has been linked with higher exacerbation rates. At a recent American Thoracic Society conference symposium titled "Depression and Obstructive Lung Disease: State of the Science and Future Directions" held in 2010 in New Orleans, clinicians and researchers identified a number of important research priorities related to psychiatric comorbidities, including the need to better understand their impact on COPD outcomes, such as exacerbations. This article reviews the current literature and quantifies the prospective impact of anxiety and depression on exacerbation risk in patients with COPD. The limitations of the existing literature and the perspectives for future research are addressed.