Stress and Asthma: The Vicious Circle

Sara Roswell Health Guide
  • I frequently say that the hardest part about asthma actually isn’t that you can’t breathe, although it definitely isn’t fun, it’s the vicious circle of stress that asthma creates. With asthma, comes a lot of stress. You worry about remembering your medications, about avoiding triggers, about how you’re feeling, about what others think. This stress, in addition to all of the normal stress from your every-day life shows in your breathing and makes asthma symptoms worse, sometimes even causing an attack. This in turn causes more stress, which causes more asthma, which causes…. You get the idea.

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    The best example of the asthma catch-22 in action that I can give you, is my first swim meet for my high school team. The day of my first meet everyone was excited for the fun, but I was a nervous wreck. All kinds of negative thoughts were running through my mind: “What if I have an attack during my race? What if I am too slow? I’ll let my team down. I’ll be so embarrassed. Should I take my inhaler yet or wait?”


    As my mind went over all of the terrible things that could happen, my lungs reacted to the stress and I started to wheeze. This brought on a whole new wave of stress as I realized my fears were coming true. Then my teammates began to notice I was having issues and all crowded around with worried looks on their faces. Despite the fact that I had been dealing with asthma for fifteen years, and knew that this wasn’t a major attack and I would be okay, I found myself getting caught up in everyone else’s concerns and panic began to set in.


    The asthma and the stress spiraled downward until it was time for me to swim and my coach decided I had to miss the meet. I was heartbroken that pre-race jitters led to a full-blown attack and that it got in the way of my team’s success.


    After that meet I learned a lot of tips and tricks to help me deal with and avoid stress when it comes to my asthma, so that I wouldn’t repeat the experience. How can you avoid a stress disaster with your own asthma?

    •   Accept it- just accept the fact that some days you will have asthma problems and some days you will have an attack. If you can accept this idea, you won’t stress as much when it does happen.
    • Be honest- before my swim meet disaster, I didn’t talk much about my asthma with my team. After, my coach let me give a little speech to my teammates about asthma and what helps my asthma. It’s natural for the people close to you to worry when you have an attack and want to help. Unfortunately, if they don’t know what to do, they tend to make the situation worse. Make sure people close to you know what helps you and to give you plenty of space and soothing words during an attack.
    •  Do Something- in order to avoid asthma-related stress (i.e. “What if I have an attack when no one is around?”) do something to help prevent or deal with it. It always calms me down to know I’ve done everything I can to prepare. Plan ahead and make action plans. If there is something specific you can do to help, do it! When I began running, I was very nervous. The simple act of getting a medical alert bracelet really eased my stress and created a safety blanket of sorts for when I run.
    • Try Stress Relieving Activities- lowering your overall stress will help your asthma. Try things like yoga, meditation, exercise, or just taking a few minutes every night to relax. It may feel selfish, especially if you are a busy parent, to take time for yourself, but a few minutes of stress relief can avoid hours of wasted time at the hospital.
    •  Avoid Stressful Situations- know what causes you the most anxiety and avoid those situations if you can. This isn’t always possible, but if you can make the choice between two options, pick the less stressful route and you will breathe easier.

    Stress and asthma can become a serious problem if you let it get out of hand, but these tips should help you keep it under control. 


Published On: April 07, 2011