We all experience undue stress at some point in our lives – for some of us, at some point every day. For patients with an anxiety disorder, overwhelming stress is unfortunately the norm. Nearly 30% of adults in the United States are estimated to suffer from some form of anxiety disorder: over 40 million individuals in total. This anxiety can range anywhere from discomforting on a daily basis, to crippling when crisis strikes.
Contrary to popular belief, anxiety cannot cause asthma. However, asthma can cause anxiety, and anxiety greatly exacerbates asthma symptoms while increasing the likelihood of an attack. This creates a vicious negative feedback loop, where anxiety triggers asthma and asthma triggers further anxiety.
While an asthma attack can only be treated with medication, there are a few tricks to keeping your anxiety under control so that it does not worsen your asthma.
Stress-Induced Asthma Attacks
For asthma patients, the lungs suffer from chronic inflammation. This inflammation is intensified by various triggers – mold, pollen, dust – that severely impair the sufferer’s ability to breathe. Stress and anxiety greatly exacerbate this already life-threatening disorder through inducing dangerous chemical changes in the body, weakening the immune system, and causing muscle constriction and hyperventilation.
Physiological Changes: When the body is stressed, it releases harmful chemicals into the bloodstream. One such chemical is histamine, which is responsible for triggering allergic reactions. Histamine can radically increase inflammation in the lungs, resulting in an asthma attack.
Weakened Immune System: The negative effects of stress on the immune system are well-documented. A weakened immune system leaves the body vulnerable to respiratory illness, such as the flu, which could prove dangerous for asthma sufferers.
Muscle Constriction: Chest tightness and muscle constriction are common symptoms of anxiety. When added to the airway constriction that asthma patients already experience, the resulting difficulty in breathing can be potentially life-threatening.
Hyperventilation: When an anxiety attack strikes, hyperventilation often occurs, causing the patient to feel faint due to an intake of too much oxygen and the retention of too little Carbon Dioxide. Hyperventilation, in conjunction with the negative effects of anxiety outlined above, can intensify asthma symptoms and lead to an asthma attack.
How to Keep Your Anxiety (and Asthma) Under Control
Again, while anxiety cannot cause a patient to develop asthma, living with asthma can cause anxiety. Health concerns are a common trigger for some anxiety cases. A patient put through the shock of an asthma attack, especially when it results in hospitalization, could easily develop an anxiety disorder from living in chronic fear. This anxiety, in turn, exacerbates the asthma symptoms, which triggers intensified anxiety, and so on.
If this is the case, the best method of treatment is to do everything you can to relieve the anxiety symptoms before they become a problem. Anxiety – like pollen, dust, or mold – is an asthmatic trigger, and needs to be treated like one. When you anticipate an anxious situation arising, try calming exercises to stem the anxiety. Or if you suspect something may lead to anxiety in the future, take preventative measures or avoid the situation altogether.
Try some of these stress-reduction techniques to keep calm under pressure:
Meditate: Gift yourself a moment of peace. Take a deep breath, and clear your mind of stressful thoughts. Focus on being present, and savor the physical sounds and sensations surrounding you. Meditation, and the art of being present, is a proven relaxation technique to calm the mind and body.
Exercise: The endorphins released during physical activity are extremely effective in releasing stress and tension in the body. Pick up an exercise or sport you enjoy, preferably with a friend, to help your body and mind unwind. Of course, be mindful of the possibility that certain exercises may cause asthma symptoms. If this is the case, focus on exercises that don’t place as much pressure on your respiratory system.
Sleep: A stressed body and mind requires plenty of rest in order to tackle the challenges of the day. Ensure that you get at least 7 hours of sleep a night to help your body recuperate from the stress of the day. Moreover, the negative effects of sleep deprivation will only make your anxiety worse.
Therapy: Therapy can take many forms: talk therapy, cognitive therapy, and even sensory therapy. Confiding in a friend or trained professional to work through your stress is ideal, but not always available. Cognitive therapy is something you can try where you own and confront your anxieties with positive thinking. Focusing on pleasant sensations is therapy in its simplest and most immediate form: cuddling with a soft blanket, inhaling lavender, and drinking something delicious and warm are just some examples.
If your anxiety symptoms are severe, consult a trained medical professional for therapy and medication. Remember that asthma always requires medical treatment and specialized attention.
Asthma Treatment with Dr. Shukla
While your anxiety may be caused by certain things in your life that are out of your control, you can control it and your asthma. Schedule a consultation with Dr. Mayank Shukla today to devise a specialized asthma treatment plan. Breathe easy with the care and support from the Asthma Allergy Sleep Center of New York.