It's an old wives' tale that asthma is "all in your head." Asthma is a very real physical illness. You can't will it away. However, emotional highs and lows can trigger asthma symptoms and full-blown asthma attacks at times. So, it's wise to pay attention to your stress level as another way of controlling asthma. Managing stress effectively is good for anyone's health, but especially if you have a chronic health condition such as asthma.
When people hear the word stress, they usually think of it as a negative thing. But, stress isn't always bad. In fact, some stress is going to be a part of everyday life. There's no avoiding it completely. It's just not realistic to think you can eliminate all stress from your life.
And sometimes stress is beneficial - to a point. It can motivate us or lead to rewards that outweigh the tensions. But it's also important to recognize that stress can be defined in different ways by each of us. For instance, some people (like me!) work best when they have a deadline. So, for us, a little stress can help us get things done. But for other people, planning ahead and leaving lots of time to get things done works better.
The important thing is to identify what stresses you and how that affects you. It comes down to knowing how to:
- avoid unhealthy stress
- manage the stress you can't avoid
- prevent stress from sending you into a tailspin
The Effect of Stress on Asthma
Studies have shown that stress can be a trigger for asthma in some people. It can make some people feel short of breath or worsen other asthma symptoms. Every one has stress some of the time. Chronic stress that never lets up or goes away, though, can be bad news for your asthma. It wears you down and you never truly have a chance to recover.
Chronic stress also affects the immune system in a number of harmful ways.
- It reduces the immune system's ability to fight infection.
- It increases the inflammatory response.
Since asthma already is linked to an inflammation of your airways, chronic stress can only make things worse.
What You Can Do About Stress
The good news is that you don't have to just live with stress and its effects on your body. There are actions you can take to better manage the stress in your life, including the following healthy lifestyle practices:
- Make healthy eating choices. Eating a well-balanced diet that enables you to keep your weight in a healthy range has a wide range of benefits that go beyond respiratory health.
- Exercise 30 minutes a day, at least 5 or 6 days a week. The exercise can be broken up into 5 to 10 minutes segments, if that's all you can manage at first. The important thing is to become as active as you can. That will help you maintain your weight as well.
- Get plenty of sleep. Most experts recommend a minimum of 7 to 8 hours a night. Sleep helps our bodies rejuvenate and re-energize for the stresses to come.
- Limit caffeine, alcohol and drugs. Caffeine is a needless stimulant; alcohol (more than 1 glass of wine per day) can be a depressant, and drugs, other than those prescribed by your physician, are unnecessary toxins. They might numb your stress initially, but they can only harm your body in the long run.
- Identify the things that stress you and search for ways to defuse them. Some people find that keeping a journal helps to identify stressors and relievers.
- Practice active relaxation techniques. For some people, exercise will do it. Others enjoy reading or listening to music. Yoga & meditation can be effective stress relievers too. So can humor and laughter. Find what works for you and use it whenever you feel stressed.
The bottom line is this -- the less you allow stress to run your life, the more under control your asthma will be!