Everyone experiences periods of stress, but for people who suffer from asthma, stress can be a dangerous trigger. A trigger is anything that activates your asthma symptoms. Triggers like stress can cause you to cough and wheeze more than usual. You might start to feel short of breath, or notice tightness or an uncomfortable pressure in your chest. As your condition deteriorates, it’s easy to feel anxious or worried about how you’ll manage your health.
Stress can come from a variety of sources. Mounting bills to pay, a health scare in the family, working overtime, or getting caught up in the week-to-week struggle of juggling homework, soccer practice, flute lessons. Suddenly, you notice your asthma symptoms worsening, and they become yet another source of stress and anxiety.
You’re locked in a vicious cycle. Stress leads to asthma symptoms, which lead to more stress. It can seem difficult—indeed, impossible—to try to get back to feeling normal and healthy again. And worse, if you’re not careful, stress can cause you to get stuck in a downward spiral.
The connection between asthma meds and anxiety.
Most people who suffer from chronic, persistent asthma are prescribed different types of medications for their condition.
Long-term controller medication is used as a preventative measure. Taking an inhaled corticosteroid, the most commonly prescribed controller medication, can reduce the frequency and severity of asthma symptoms. Most asthma sufferers also carry a quick-relief bronchodilator to treat asthma symptoms when they occur.
But when asthma symptoms spin out of control, your doctor might prescribe an oral steroid called prednisone as a short-term solution. The problem with prednisone is that it comes with some pretty severe side effects, including mood swings, which can ultimately exacerbate the anxiety you’re already experiencing.
If you are prescribed prednisone, remember that for most asthmatics, it’s only a short-term treatment. You’ll generally take it for a week or two, and after you are finished treatment, your mood will go back to normal. Your regular inhaled controller corticosteroid medication will not cause cause lasting mood changes.
But if your controller medication isn’t working as well as it should, you may find yourself requiring quick-relief treatment more often, causing you to veer from stress to symptoms to more stress. It might be time to talk to your doctor about the role of stress as an asthma trigger. Changing your medication or dosage may help you to get your asthma symptoms under control and end the cycle.
Here’s how to balance stress when you have asthma.
With or without asthma, stress is a part of life. If you have asthma, it’s crucial to find a way to manage or reduce stress in order to make sure you don’t get knocked down by your symptoms.
Most of the time, you can target stress by taking time to do things that you enjoy. And when you feel like you’re going to have an asthma attack, simple relaxation techniques can go a long way in alleviating frightening symptoms such as shortness of breath. They can even help you to avoid symptoms altogether.
The following tips can help you to minimize the impact of stress in your life:
- Changing your thoughts.
Expecting the worst, dwelling on failure, or seeing the glass as half-empty—all of these ways of thinking can cause unnecessary stress. Though learning to change your thought patterns is difficult, it can help you to regain control over your emotions and your stress levels.
- Reduce or eliminate sources of stress.
What’s stressing you out? Money, problems in your marriage, depression, a jam-packed schedule? Some stressors, such as a busy schedule, can be lessened or eliminated. Others, such as money woes, depression, or relationship issues, can’t be eliminated, at least not right away. Seeking professional help to target stressors beyond your control is one way to prioritize feeling better.
- Avoid putting yourself in stressful situations.
Sometimes, we inadvertently create more stress for ourselves. If you tend to leave assignments, chores, or tasks to the last minute and then scramble to complete them, perhaps you need to hone up on your time management skills. It may be a struggle to say no to colleagues or family members, but learning how to say no to the things that you don’t have the time or energy for can make a big difference in your daily stress levels.
- Break a sweat every day.
When you have asthma, it’s more important than ever to stay active. Not only can exercise keep you feeling healthy, it’s a great way to relieve stress.
- Prioritize sleep.
Asthma is a chronic illness. Sleep is crucial to help your body cope with and recover from symptoms. If you struggle to sleep at night or find your symptoms interfere with you getting the rest you need, you will be left feeling low on energy. Stressors will affect you even more. Prioritizing sleep and developing healthy sleep habits, such as those listed below, can help you to feel your best.
- Only go to bed when you feel tired.
- Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time every morning—even on the weekends.
- Find a nighttime routine that works for you and stick to it.
- Avoid reading, watching television, or eating in bed if you have trouble falling asleep. Reserve your bedroom for sleep and sex.
- Don’t exercise in the evening and avoid physically strenuous activity.
- Reduce or cut out caffeine.
- Do not take naps in the day.
- Eat healthy.
Most of us underestimate the impact of the food we eat on our day-to-day health. But eating too much fast food, refined sugar, or processed food can drastically affect your energy levels. Limit your intake of caffeine, sugar, and alcohol when your stress levels are spiking.
- Delegate tasks. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
It’s normal to feel stressed out when you have too much on your plate. If you’re carrying the bulk of responsibility at home, try delegating to lighten your workload. Encourage your family members to take a team approach to household chores. These guidelines include some best practices for sharing the workload at home:
- Make a list of all the tasks that need to be done on a weekly basis.
- Take the time to train your family members to do each specific task or chore.
- Assign responsibility to one person each week.
- If the job—such as changing the cat litter or emptying the trash—is unpleasant, try rotating responsibility.
- Ensure that information about the task and the deadline is clear.
- Offer praise; let others know when you are pleased with their work.
- Don’t butt in when someone chooses to do a job a different way.
- Avoid perfectionism.
- Ask for help from family and friends when you need it.
Not having access to a strong support network is one of the most significant predictors of stress. Hopefully, you do have access to family members and friends who will offer help when you’re in a pinch. Don’t be too proud to speak up when you need it. Friends and family can help you out with the following:
- Staying active.
- Coping with your emotions.
- Completing household tasks and chores, such as errands, grocery shopping, or rides to appointments and after-school activities.
- Maintaining a positive outlook towards your illness.
- Helping you follow your treatment plan.