Stress & Asthma

Asthma is a disease that causes stress, but stress can also cause an asthma attack. Learning how to manage your stress will help you manage your asthma symptoms, too. Tips about stress management include relaxation exercises, delegating, getting enough sleep and more.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a disease that affects the airways to your lungs. During an asthma attack the muscles that surround your airways tighten, making them narrow. The lining swells, and the cells make more mucus, clogging your airways. It is a chronic disease that can affect anyone.


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What is stress?

Stress is a natural reaction to a change, whether that change is “good” or “bad.” It tells your mind and body that there’s a threat that it needs to either confront or avoid. Examples of common stressors include:

  • School.
  • Work.
  • Responsibilities.
  • Family.
  • Losing a job.
  • Illness.
  • Divorce.
  • Trauma.

Stress can affect your physical health. For example, it can cause an upset stomach and a headache. Stress contributes to depression, anxiety and heart problems.

Stress can also trigger an asthma attack.

You cannot avoid stress; it is part of daily life. However, developing effective ways to manage stress and learning to relax can help you prevent shortness of breath and avoid panic.

How do I manage stress?

Learn to change thought patterns that produce stress. What you think, how you think, what you expect and what you tell yourself often determine how you feel and how well you manage rising stress levels.

Reduce stressors (causes of stress). Identify the major stressors in your life: money problems, relationship problems, grief, too many deadlines, busy schedule and lack of support. Get professional help for problems that are too difficult to deal with by yourself.

Try to avoid situations that trigger stress for you. Practice effective time-management skills, such as delegating when appropriate, setting priorities, pacing yourself and taking time out for yourself.

Practice relaxation exercises. Relaxation exercises are simple to perform and combine deep breathing, releasing of muscle tension and clearing of negative thoughts. If you practice these exercises regularly, you can use them when needed to lessen the negative effects of stress. Relaxation exercises include diaphragmatic and pursed lip breathing, imagery, repetitive phrases (repeating a phrase that triggers a physical relaxation, such as "Relax and Let Go") and progressive muscle relaxation. Many commercial audiotapes and books that teach these exercises are available.

Exercise! It’s an excellent way to burn off the accumulated effects of stress.

Get enough sleep. If you are not sleeping well, you will have less energy and fewer resources for coping with stress. Developing good sleep habits is very important. Here are some tips:

  • Develop specific bedtime rituals and stick to them.
  • If you have trouble sleeping, do not watch TV, read, or eat in bed.
  • Do not engage in exercise or strenuous activity immediately before bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine.
  • Do not nap.
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including on the weekends.

Follow the recommended nutritional guidelines. Junk food and refined sugars low in nutritional value and high in calories can leave you feeling out of energy and sluggish. Limiting sugar, caffeine and alcohol can promote health and reduce stress.

Delegate responsibility. Stress overload often results from having too many responsibilities. You can free up time and decrease stress by delegating responsibilities. Take a team approach and involve everyone in sharing the load. Try applying these guidelines at home or modifying them to fit your situation at work:

  • Make a list of the types of tasks involved in the job.
  • Take time to train someone to do the job or specific tasks.
  • Assign responsibility to a specific person.
  • Rotate unpleasant duties.
  • Give clear, specific instructions with deadlines.
  • Be appreciative; let people know you are pleased by a job well done.
  • Allow others to do a job their own way.
  • Give up being a perfectionist.

Seek support from your family. The support of family and friends is very important. Social support is the single most important buffer against stress. Here are some tips you can offer to your family or friends when they ask how they can help. Family and friends can:

  • Help you remain as active and independent as possible.
  • Provide emotional support.
  • Help with household chores and with grocery shopping and other errands as necessary.
  • Learn what they can about your condition and prescribed treatment by attending doctor’s appointments with you.
  • Provide encouragement and help you follow your prescribed treatment plan.
Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 01/07/2021.

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