How Stress Affects Your Asthma
Ever wonder why you start to wheeze when you get angry or worried? Stress and asthma are connected. Find out how emotions and asthma symptoms are often related.
Stress is your body’s alarm system. It’s a set of signals telling you to react to any kind of demand that disrupts life as usual. The reaction is rooted in the human species’ flight-or-fight response that protected our cave-dwelling ancestors from danger. Most of today’s stressors are not dangerous. Yet traffic jams, deadlines and family quarrels still fire up the nervous system. Everyday demands can elevate heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. Emotional stress may also trigger an asthma attack in up to 35 percent of asthmatics.
What’s the stress and wheezing connection?
Stress does not cause asthma, but the body’s response to stressors can be one of many triggers for asthma attacks in some people. When stressed, you breathe faster and may take more shallow breaths. This can make asthma symptoms worse. Chronic stress can also:
Lower immunity and make you susceptible to colds, which can trigger asthma
Lead you to forget to take your asthma medications or check your peak flow
Practice mind over matter
Two techniques that may help to control stress are diaphragmatic breathing and guided imagery. Small, limited studies have shown that using relaxation therapies like these may also be of some benefit to reduce asthma symptoms when used along with conventional treatments. The principle behind these techniques is simple: divert focus off the stressor and you’ll relax. When you are stressed, try these easy techniques:
Diaphragmatic breathing, also called “belly breathing.” Shift your focus to your breathing. Take slow, full breaths instead of the shallow, rapid breathing that comes with stress. Imagine that with each breath in, your diaphragm expands like a balloon. Then slowly breathe out.
Guided imagery. Think of a wide open space, like the beach or a field. That space represents your airways. In your mind, move from a closed space (like a closet) to the wide, pleasant open space.
These techniques should never be used in place of medication for the treatment of asthma symptoms. They are not to take the place of anything in your asthma treatment plan. The purpose of these techniques is to help you deal with stress and help you to relax.
Make some lifestyle changes
Stress can also build over time, from bad habits. You can better manage stress through simple changes.
Get enough sleep. Individual sleep needs differ, but most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep every night. Make sleep a priority and schedule in your sleep. Eliminate sources of noise that keep you awake.
Practice time management. Rushing from errands to meetings can be stressful. Use an electronic organizer – or just a notepad – to write down what you have to do and how long each task will take. Then stick to it. Say “no” to people if you’re overbooking.
Delegate tasks. You can’t do everything. If there are extra pairs of hands around to cook or walk the dog, then use them.