We all experience stress and anxiety in our daily lives. There is the stress of happy events (weddings, birthdays, births) and the stress of hard times (how to pay the bills, problems at work and school). Stress can have both positive and negative impacts on the body. Stress can help you escape from a fire or land that new job; while, prolonged stress can damage the body. Chronic stress is hard on everyone, but is especially hard for those who have asthma.
The Stress Effect on Asthma
The fight or flight response is the body’s way of helping to protect itself from a perceived danger. During this process, the body is stimulated to produce stress hormones, such as adrenaline. Adrenaline works to accelerate breathing and heart function, constricts blood vessels in certain parts of the body while dilating blood vessels in other areas. In addition, the body releases histamines and leukotrienes that are part of the inflammation process in the body. These chemicals can cause inflammation and swelling in the lungs, causing narrowing of the airways, leading to worsening asthma symptoms and possibly an asthma attack.
Signs of Stress and Anxiety
Asthma is not a psychological disease. Stress does not cause asthma in a person who’s never had asthma before. At one time, asthma was viewed as a psychosomatic problem; however, asthma is an incurable physical disease. Asthma research has proven that stress and anxiety cause the body to release the fight or flight chemicals that can make asthma worse.
Stress and Anxiety Symptoms
• A constant feeling of tension or being on edge
• Anxious feelings
• Constantly feeling irritated and annoyed
• Chronic insomnia
• A Change in eating habits—eating more or less than normal
• Trouble concentrating and/or making decisions
• Becoming easily distracted
• Life overall is overwhelming
Along with these symptoms, you may also notice your asthma becoming more unstable and harder to control. Long-term exposure to stress chemicals can also damage your immune system, making you more prone to catch illnesses and making your allergies worse. If you experience one or more of these stress and anxiety symptoms longer than six weeks, then it’s time to seek help from your medical doctor and/or a mental health professional. In addition, you should be sure to follow the steps on your action plan for when your asthma symptoms begin to flare. If your asthma doesn’t improve, be sure to seek medical assistance as soon as possible in order to avoid an asthma attack.
How to Manage Stress and Asthma
Both stress and asthma can be managed to help you stay healthy and keep your asthma under control. Here are some steps you can take to manage stress and asthma:
1. Identify the major causes of stress in your life. Look at each area of your life to see what causes the most stress. Next, find ways to reduce these stressors. If you’re not able to find ways to solve these issues, be sure to seek professional help to resolve these problems.
2. Follow your asthma action plan. Following your action plan and taking all medications as prescribed will go a long way towards keeping your asthma stable and under control, even during stressful situations.
3. Avoid asthma triggers. Your immune system may be under attack during stressful periods, making you more sensitive to allergy and asthma triggers. Avoidance of asthma triggers helps to keep your asthma stable and controlled, even during times of stress.
4. Learn to relax. Learning how to relax during stressful times can actually help your body and your asthma. You might try prayer, meditation, deep breathing techniques, yoga, listening to soothing music, or progressive muscle relaxation to help your body and mind relax by reducing levels of stress chemicals in your body.
5. Use positive thinking to change negative thought patterns. Negative thinking can cause an increase in the levels of stress chemicals in your body. Positive thoughts can help avoid the stress chemicals, keeping you calm and relaxed in the face of everyday stress.
6. Exercise. Exercise helps your body to use up the stress chemicals, along with helping you to stay fit and feel physically better.
7. Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can lead to low energy levels, a weakened immune system and worsening asthma. A proper amount of will ensure you have plenty of energy and a rested mind to better cope with daily stressors.
8. Eat a healthy diet. Eating a healthy diet helps you to be energized to face your daily stresses, along with keeping your immune system strong. Many people crave sugar, caffeine and foods rich in carbohydrates when they’re under a lot of stress. These foods tend to only give short bursts of energy; after the short energy burst most people experience low blood sugar, starting the cycle once again. The best solution is to eat healthy in order to make sure you stay healthy and have the energy to tackle everyday problems.
9. Build a support network. Seeking support from family and friends helps to build a buffer between you and stress. You can also find support groups (online and/or in your community) of people who are dealing with the same issues you’re facing. A support network offers you emotional support and encouragement every day, but also during stressful times.
10. Seek professional help. If these self-help measures don’t help relieve your stress levels, then be sure to seek professional help. Professional help may take the form of a mental health professional who can offer different methods and medications to help you with stress. Professional help can also take the form of specialists who can help you with specific problems, such as financial problems. There’s no shame in seeking help for your stress and/or problems—doing so will keep you healthier and happier in the long-run.
Stress can be dangerous for asthmatics, but you can take the above steps to keep stress and asthma under control. Again, if these methods don’t work for you, be sure to seek out professional help; and be sure to seek out medical help if you have worsening asthma symptoms in spite of following your action plan. Keep stress and asthma under control in order to keep your body and mind healthy so you can cope with the everyday stresses in your life.