As with many chronic diseases, a diagnosis of asthma can bring on feelings of anxiety and stress — can I manage it? What happens if I have an acute attack? And if you begin isolating yourself out of fear of being exposed to a triggering substance, you may bring your mood down. While some emotional turbulence is natural, it helps to keep asthma in perspective: While not curable, the disease is highly treatable, and with the right kind of care and mental outlook, your symptoms can be nearly nonexistent.
Put Yourself in Control
Control freaks tend to get a bad rap. But focus on creating control, rather than freaking out, and you can do a pretty good job of minimizing asthma’s impact on your daily life.
- Get a plan. An asthma action plan is a written, customized plan that spells out symptoms and peak flow meter results — and related actions to take in response. Developed with your doctor, it also lays down the law on when to call 911. And now that you know what to do, you can stop worrying about it.
- Make it a habit. When you have asthma, the number one way to stay healthy and happy is to regularly take your medicines. Do you take your inhaler or pills on the dot after an acute bout, then become careless when you’re feeling better? “Forget” to bring your inhaler to work or on a weekend away? Here’s the deal: If you can remember to brush your teeth, you can remember to take your meds. Place your pills by your toothbrush. Use your inhaler first thing in the morning. Keep a medication checklist or a daily reminder on your cell phone. Twenty-one days of any repeated behavior makes it a habit — so just do it.
- Put it in perspective. Remembering to take daily medications is a pain. So, frankly, is not being able to breathe. If you need to convince yourself that one outweighs the other, write down the costs of taking your medicines (minor inconvenience, possible side-effects) versus the benefits (avoiding going to the emergency room, having a full life). List in hand, it will be easier to make the healthy choice.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Wondering if or when the next asthma attack might hit probably sets you slightly on edge — making even pleasant events such as going on vacation or for a hike a potential source of worry (what is streaming in through hotel air vents? What is floating in the air?). All that anxiety can actually lead to asthma attacks. When you’re anxious, you may hyperventilate, taking rapid, deep breaths because of your panic. This type of breathing can irritate the linings of your airways, making you vulnerable to an attack.
And not only does anticipating attacks give you reason to be stressed, both chronic and acute stress can make your asthma worse. Research shows that chronic stress — that is, when the body is continually in fight-or-flight mode with no time to recover, due to a crazy boss, bill collectors bugging you or your mother-in-law moving in — both increases the chances of developing asthma and makes attacks worse.
- ID your triggers. First, your asthma triggers should be neither mysterious nor a cause of concern — nor should worrying about a chance encounter with them make you put yourself into an isolation chamber. So instead of worrying, work with an asthma specialist to pinpoint your triggers through allergy tests and interviews.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise boosts your mood, reduces stress and improves your personal sense of control. It also helps you sleep better, which reduces stress and will give you energy to manage your disease.
- Find ways to unwind. Take time to step away from the pressures that have you stressed. Try relaxation exercises such as progressive muscle relaxation, focused breathing and guided imagery.