EMOTIONS, STRESS, ANXIETY & DEPRESSION – HOW IT MAY TRIGGER YOUR ASTHMA

For some people, emotions such as laughter, grief, crying, stress, anxiety, and depression may be common triggers for their asthma. These emotions may cause flare-ups and asthma attacks for people with asthma.

UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS

How do you know if emotional triggers are causing your asthma symptoms?

It may be hard to recognise the signs that you are feeling stressed or to pinpoint the reason you feel stressed.

Heightened emotions and stress can make you feel tired, worried, restless, uncertain, or more irritable than usual.

For example, you may feel stressed when:

  • Deadlines or events are looming
  • You are feeling under prepared or under pressure
  • You are in places such as school or work
  • Things are happening around us, like bushfires or pandemics
  • These situations may trigger your asthma symptoms to start to worsen or flare-up.

PANIC ATTACKS AND ASTHMA

Too much stress and worry can sometimes lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. Severe anxiety and major trigger events can give rise to panic attacks.

Panic attacks are more common than you may think. Up to 5 in every 100 Australians experience a panic attack at some stage in their life. In a panic attack, stress hormones release to prepare us to either run away from danger or fight it. This is often called the ‘fight or flight response. Our bodies react with symptoms such as a faster heart rate, tense muscles, and breathing that is shallow and fast. Sometimes this can cause people to hyperventilate. You may also feel sweaty, dizzy, or faint.

The change to our breathing pattern can bring on asthma symptoms, such as tight chest, shortness of breath and coughing. The rush of hormones during times of intense stress and anxiety can also cause asthma symptoms.

People tell us they find it hard to know if they are having an asthma attack or a panic attack. If you are unsure, follow your Asthma First Aid steps, and call triple zero (000) for an ambulance if your breathing problems are severe.

If you experience asthma and panic attacks, talk to your doctor about what to do if you are unsure. We recommend having this listed on your Asthma Action Plan. Make sure your Asthma Action Plan is visible or easy to find at home so family or friends can help you if needed. A good place might be on the fridge or stuck on the back of a door.

ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION

Did you know that? 

  • More than two million Australians have asthma 
  • More than three million Australians are living with depression or anxiety 

Anxiety and depression are risk factors associated with poorer asthma outcomes. Asthma and anxiety can share similar symptoms. You may experience tightening of the chest, difficulty breathing, racing heart, and feeling lightheaded. Some of these symptoms may also be side effects of your asthma reliever medications.

  • Almost 45% of people experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime. That’s almost half of Australians1
  • Anxiety and depression are about twice as common in people with asthma2
  • Children with asthma are more likely to develop mental health problems3
  • In people diagnosed with severe asthma, 38% report current symptoms of anxiety and 25% report depression4

Both asthma and depression, if untreated, can impact greatly on a person’s ability to keep active and enjoy life. Therefore, having both depression and asthma can pose even greater difficulties for people.

Both asthma and depression, can reduce your ability to keep active and enjoy life.

Depression can wipe out energy and make it hard to do things like seeking help for asthma, taking prescribed medication, keeping appointments, or following written Asthma Action Plans.

If people with anxiety or depression smoke or use other substances, this can cause serious problems.

There are treatments available for both asthma and depression. See your doctor for a review to find out what is the best treatment for you.

CAN YOU REDUCE THE IMPACT OF STRESS, ANXIETY, OR DEPRESSION ON YOUR ASTHMA?

It’s impossible to cut out all stresses from our lives. But you can do things that reduce the risk of it making your asthma worse.

Here are some helpful tips:

Learn more about anxiety, depression, and asthma and how these conditions affect each other.

  • Starting with reading our Anxiety and Depression brochure here.
  • Ask your doctor how to tell the difference between your asthma symptoms and symptoms of anxiety, stress, or depression. Get advice on what to do about both.
  • Consider other services to help with your mental health, worries and stress. Beyond Blue, Lifeline, Black Dog, Head to Health websites have all got useful information.
  • Ask your doctor about any possible medication side effects and their impact on your asthma or mental health.

 

Visit your doctor regularly to check your asthma and mental health management.

  • Get a written Asthma Action Plan and a Mental Health Plan that are easy for you to understand.
  • Use your asthma medicine as directed. Talk to your doctor about problems with cost, organisation, or planning.
  • Talk to your doctor about what to do if your asthma gets worse, including Asthma First Aid and steps to take in an emergency.

 

Consider what you can do about your health and wellbeing.

  • A healthy diet and regular exercise can improve wellbeing.
  • Limiting your substance use (including alcohol, tobacco, and coffee).

 

Get help, support and encouragement from family and friends.

For immediate support call Lifeline on 13 11 14 and in an emergency, always call triple zero (000).

Speak to our Asthma Educators by calling 1800 ASTHMA  (1800 728 462) to address any questions you may have around asthma.

 

Asthma Australia is an information and support service and does not provide medical advice. Information provided does not replace medical care. The best treatments are those that consider the person with asthma as a whole. This includes emotional support, ongoing medical care, education that matches the persons need, and community support.

 

REFERENCES:

  1. https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/mental-pubs-m-mhaust2-toc~mental-pubs-m-mhaust2-hig~mental-pubs-m-mhaust2-hig-pre
  2. https://www.vu.edu.au/sites/default/files/australias-mental-and-physical-health-tracker-background-paper_mitchell-institute.pdf
  3. https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/50/suppl_61/PA595
  4. https://toolkit.severeasthma.org.au/co-morbdities/extra-pulmonary/anxiety-depression/

 

Last updated 4/11/2021