Whether you have or not asthma, stress is part of everyone’s life. Normal responsibilities such as work commitments and presenting cause routine stress. Next, there is stress brought by unexpected changes such as relationship problems, financial difficulties, losing a job, or an illness. Finally, there is a third form of stress, called traumatic stress, which occurs in life-altering effects like the current pandemic or a major natural disaster (i.e. a major hurricane).
Most people associate stress with anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. However, chronic stress is a key risk for physical symptoms and conditions like headaches, digestive problems, changes in appetite -either increased or decreased, high blood pressure, chest pain, low sex drive, major sleeping problems, weakened immune system leading to increased risk of infections.
It is well known that left untreated, chronic stress worsens symptoms of other conditions including asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, depression, and anxiety. Stress also increases the risk of unhealthy habits like excessive drinking, smoking, using street drugs, and eating junk food. What is the link between stress and asthma and why does stress make asthma worse? Let’s get into details
Stress and asthma. What is the connection
Having a chronic condition is stressful on itself. Getting the diagnosis of an illness and knowing that you have a disease that will stay with you for the rest of your life is a major stressful event.
Asthma symptoms trigger stress and anxiety. Having asthma may be even more challenging compared with other conditions because of the nature of the symptoms. Asthma causes breathing difficulties and symptoms at night which interfere with daily activities.Stress is a well known common asthma trigger.When an individual is stressed, he is more likely to feel short of breath, anxious and even panicky. As the symptoms worse, so are the stress levels, creating a vicious cycle.
Asthma treatment can trigger more anxiety.Persistent asthma can be more stressful than a mild form of asthma for a few reasons. The symptoms occur more than twice in a week and interfere with day to day life. The treatment also includes long term, preventive drugs as well as rescue therapy. When symptoms aren’t well controlled, therapy with prednisone may be needed for a few days. While inhaled steroids don’t cause mood problems, prednisone can cause mood swings and aggravate anxiety. However, these mood swings should not persist after prednisone is discontinued. Uncontrolled symptoms lead to more frequent wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness which trigger anxiety. Anxiety worsens asthma symptoms and more symptoms lead to more anxiety.
Genetics may play a role. Recent studies found that certain genetic variations may predispose chronically stressed youth to both asthma and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Stress also impacts the lung function, immune system, nervou system and hormones, as they are all connected through multiple and complex pathways. Stress may even reduce the response to asthma drugs, particularly inhaled corticosteroids and inhaled beta2 agonists.
It becomes clear that stress management should be an important part of the treatment plan. Reducing stress can help better manage the symptoms, respond to asthma drugs and have better control of this condition long term.
Identify the major stressors in your life. Eliminate as many stressors as you can, reduce the rest of them. Make a detailed list of the key aspects of your life- from family and relationships to work, social life, finances, personal hobbies and projects. How do you feel about them? Look for any negative feelings and emotions when reviewing an item because that area of your life is triggering some stress. Look for solutions, and ask for professional help if needed. For example, if you have a lot of tasks at work, learn to delegate, set priorities or pace yourself. If you experience emotional eating due to stress, get a nutrition coach. Review your list regularly after implementing anti-stress strategies.
2. Eat healthy, stay active, and improve your sleep. Your diet, fitness levels, and sleep are strongly correlated with your stress levels. Stress leads to unhealthy habits where regular exercise, good quality sleep, and a Mediterranean-style diet help reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.
3. Choose one or more anti-stress techniques and use them daily. Whether you choose deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai chi, or any other anti-stress technique, make sure you use it daily, for at least 10 minutes.
4. Get psychotherapy. Counseling helps you learn how to change thought patterns that trigger stress and anxiety. The way you think about yourself and the environment, how you think about yourself and others determine how you react and how stressful you will feel.