In the first article in my series, 3 Reasons Why Anxiety Aggravates Asthma, I taught you the ins and outs of asthma and how it can aggravate and be aggravated by your anxiety. Dealing with any chronic illness can be problematic and make anxiety and depression worse. There are, however, things you can do to limit asthma’s impact on you. I’ve come up with eight simple tricks that can help you manage both your asthma and anxiety.
1. Identify Your Biggest Stressors
Develop a plan for situations that seem to bring on your asthma symptoms. Either avoid the stressful situation if possible or develop techniques to manage the anxiety-provoking conditions. You should completely avoid situations as a last resort. Avoidance behaviors can be problematic and may take away from the quality of your life. If you and your physician agree, consider Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy.
2. Build a Strong Healthcare Team
Just like how you need a good team of doctors to help manage anxiety and depressive symptoms, you need a good team to help manage your asthma. If anxiety and depression are making your asthma worse, you may need to seek a specialist to help manage your anxiety.
3. Be Informed
Not all health care providers recognize the link between asthma and anxiety. If you think your asthma may be contributing to anxiety symptoms, discuss this with your doctor and directly share your concerns. If you do not feel that your concerns are being adequately addressed, consider a second opinion.
4. Get Enough Exercise
Exercise has important health benefits including psychological well-being, maintaining a healthy weight, and decreased risk of heart disease. With asthma, you should be able to participate in almost any activity you want. Inability to exercise is a sign that your asthma control may be poor. Talk with your doctor about an exercise plan that will help improve your asthma as well as decrease anxiety and depressive symptoms.
5. Get Enough Sleep
Poor sleep impacts not only your asthma, but also how you function the following day leading to poor performance at school or work. This can lead to worsening of asthma and anxiety symptoms. Talk with your doctor because eliminating sleep problems may be as easy as eliminating triggers such as dust mites that live in carpets and drapes. Also, keeping a sleep journal can help identify if “next day” symptoms are due to poor sleep. If you or your child require asthma medication at night more than a couple of times per month, this may indicate poor control that should be addressed with your doctor.
6. Learn Breathing Techniques
Deep breathing techniques like the Buteyko breathing exercises may help improve your asthma control. With this breathing technique you learn to decrease both the volume and number of breaths you take.Breathing exercises have been associated with decreased asthma symptoms, decreased use of rescue inhalers, lowering doses of regular daily asthma medication, and improved quality of life. Breathing exercises will not lead to elimination of all asthma medications.
7. Become an Asthma Expert
I often tell my patients I want them to become more of an expert in asthma than I am. The more you know, the easier asthma is to manage. There are certain things that you should be doing to make sure your asthma is under the best possible control. Being an asthma expert involves:
- Having an Asthma Action Plan: This is your ‘how to’ asthma guide. It will include a plan for everything from monitoring and prevention, to what you need to do when you are experiencing an attack. It needs to be reviewed with your asthma care provider every 6 to 12 months.
- Monitoring your asthma: You cannot change what you do not measure. Your provider will ask you to monitor your asthma symptoms or may ask you to use a device called a peak flow meter. This is a small, inexpensive device that you can carry around with you to measure how easily air flows in and out of your lungs. Either way, this is key to getting your asthma under control.
- Taking your medicines as directed: Large numbers of asthma patients do not regularly take their medication. If you don’t, you cannot get your asthma under good control.
- Increasing your knowledge: The more you know about asthma, the easier it will be for you to get it under control.
8. Be a Problem Solver
If you view asthma and associated problems as a challenge with a solution, and not an unsolvable problem, you will be more likely to get your asthma under control.
While asthma and anxiety are linked, there are steps you can take to get both under control. Educating yourself and taking action are key steps to coping with your anxiety and asthma.
Learning Good Control Makes Life Easier
Good control of asthma is associated with no difference in anxiety and depressive symptoms compared to people without asthma in a number of research studies. This suggests that it is not the diagnosis itself, but rather asthma control that leads to anxiety and depressive symptoms. This is good news for asthma patients because there are direct steps you can take to control your asthma.
Other articles in this series include:
Part 1: 3 Reasons Why Anxiety Aggravates Asthma
Dr. Pat F. Bass, M.D., is the Chief Medical Information Officer and Associate Professor at Louisiana State University Health Science Center. He holds degrees in Medicine, Instructional Systems Design, and Public Health. Dr. Bass is dedicated to patient education and enhancing the healthcare experience. His work includes freelance medical content, writing for About.com, reviewing for Everyday Health and HealthDay, and publishing research articles. He focuses on asthma education and empowering patients to collaborate effectively with healthcare professionals to improve their quality of life.