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 may be feeling stressed or to pinpoint the actual cause of why you feel stressed. It may also be hard at times to identify the potentially stressful situation you may currently be in.

Heightened emotions and stress can make you feel tired, worried, restless, indecisive or more irritable or emotional than usual. For example, you may feel stressed when certain deadlines or events are looming and you are feeling under prepared or under pressure, environments such as school or work or and things happening around us, like bushfires, pandemics can be sources of worry and stress. These situations may have an impact on your asthma health where you might find your asthma symptoms worsen over time or could worsen suddenly, depending on your level of stress and emotional state and your level of asthma control.

STRESS AND EMOTIONS

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, with up to 5 in every 100 Australians experiencing a panic attack at some stage in their life. In a panic attack, stress hormones are released to prepare us to either run away from danger or fight it (commonly known as 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. Occasionally 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 surge of hormones during periods of intense stress and anxiety can also cause asthma symptoms.

ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION

Did you know that more than two million Australians have asthma and more than three million Australians are living with depression or anxiety?

Anxiety and depression can be considered 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. These symptoms may also be side effects of your asthma reliever medications.

If people with anxiety and depression take their eye off their asthma management plan and their overall health and take up smoking or other substance use, this can pose significant problems.

  • One in seven Australians will experience depression in their lifetime
  • Anxiety and depression are approximately twice as common in people with asthma than people without asthma
  • Children and young people with asthma are more likely to develop mental health problems in the
  • In people with severe asthma, 38% report current symptoms of anxiety and 25% report depression

It is understood that having both depression and asthma can pose greater difficulties for people compared to having depression alone or asthma alone and that both asthma and depression, if untreated, can impact greatly on a person’s ability to keep active and enjoy life. Depression can simply wipe out our energy and make it hard to do the basics, like seeking help for asthma, taking prescribed medication, keeping appointments or following written Asthma Action Plans.

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

It’s near impossible to cut out all stresses from our lives. But you can do things that have the potential to 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 interact. Starting with reading our Anxiety and Depression brochure here
  • Discuss with your doctor how to distinguish the symptoms of asthma from the symptoms of anxiety, stress or depression and what to do about both
  • Consider, discuss with family and friends and explore for yourself other options you might prefer, to help with your mental health, worries and stress management. Beyond BlueLifelineBlack DogHead to Health websites have all got useful and high quality resources for consumers
  • Visit your doctor regularly to review your asthma and mental health management
  • Get a written Asthma Action Plan and a mental health plan that make sense to
  • Get help, support and encouragement from family and friends and have them help you to follow your asthma and mental health plans.
  • Use your asthma medicine as prescribed. Talk to your doctor about possible barriers to taking medicine, such as cost, organisation or planning, as well as what to do if your asthma worsens, including Asthma First Aid and steps to take in an emergency.
  • Speak to one of our Asthma Educators by calling 1800 ASTHMA (1800 728 462) to address any additional questions you may have around asthma concerns and management. You may also like to ask your GP about a referral to our COACH Program, so we can work with you on your asthma management.
  • Consider what you can do about your overall health and wellbeing.
    • Paying attention to a healthy diet and doing regular moderate intensity exercise are behaviours understood to improve overall wellbeing and have potential to improve mental wellbeing,
    • Limiting your substance use (including alcohol, tobacco and coffee).
    • Discuss with your health professional any possible medication side effects and their impact on your asthma and mental health.

Asthma Australia is an information and support service and do not provide medical advice. Information provided is not in lieu of medical care. The most effective treatments are those that appreciate the person with asthma holistically and plans psychological support as part of routine medical care, ongoing monitoring, individualised asthma education and adequate community support.