Forge a path to decrease your stress on Stress Awareness Day
Everybody's got stress in their lives, even if it's not out of control or causing a lot of disruption to your life, it is still there. We know that stress can impact asthma control through a body-wide hormone changes associated with the stress response. November 2nd is International Stress Awareness Day—days before a Presidential election in the United States, there could really not be better timing this year for a refresher on stress and asthma, and getting back to the basics of managing stress—preferably, before it starts!
Stress and Your Lungs
When we experience stress our bodies release more chemicals like histamines and leukotrienes.1 Yup, if those things sound familiar, that’s because commonly we might take anti-histamines for allergies, anti-leukotrienes (also known as leukotriene receptor antagonists) for asthma—so, it’s pretty clear already the impact these things have on our asthma. Histamines and leukotrienes produced in the body are what cause increased levels of asthma symptoms, like inflammation. When psychological stress—whether a looming exam, job interview, world event or family crisis—pops up in your life, it’s potentially only a matter of time before your asthma does, too.
Managing stress< Everybody’s stress management plan will look different. Here are some common ways to deal with stress:
- Creativity: writing or journaling, making music or creating art
- Taking a long bath or shower
- Reading or watching a funny or light-hearted movie
- Having coffee with a friend
- Talking to a therapist
- Baking (although, try to avoid the stress-eating component if at all possible!)
- Practicing mindfulness and/or meditation
- Getting extra sleep or taking a nap
- Engaging in exercise—even something simple like going for a walk
Important as well to managing stress is knowing how stress feels in your body. That way, you can respond to the symptoms of stress you are experiencing more quickly. Asthma is just one way stress might produce physical symptoms—headaches, nausea, tense muscles (especially in your shoulders), increased tiredness, acne, changes in bowel movements, dry mouth and rapid heart beat may all be symptoms of stress.2 Emotional or psychological symptoms of stress can include depression or anxiety, agitation or frustration and moodiness, feeling a lack of or loss of control and need to regain a sense of control, avoiding others and feeling negatively about yourself are all signs of stress as well.2 However, if emotional symptoms persist, they may also be a sign of a mental health condition that goes beyond stress—physical symptoms, if they do not seem linked to any specific situation that might induce stress—should also be evaluated by a doctor if persistent.
Prevention is key—but how?
First, don’t let preventing stress cause you more stress, that won’t help matters! The management strategies for stress are a good place to start: have a plan in place for when stress comes up, and use it. But, you can also use these stress-management strategies in your everyday life before your stress levels spiral out of control—think of them like your preventer and reliever medicines for asthma. The tools you can use to manage or reduce stress when you are already stressed out, can also work to help prevent stress before it starts.
Also, learn from what has caused you stress in the past. Some things, like your car dying en route to an important event or meeting, or a family emergency cannot be prevented or planned for. However, others may be more manageable, such as planning ahead if you are able for unexpected expenses—for instance, I recently attended a financial management seminar which explained that if you figure out how much money you spend per month on average, and then over a few months (or immediately if possible), put enough money to cover three months of expenses into a separate bank account. If an emergency comes up where you have to spend more money than anticipated—such as a job loss, which means same expenses on less income!—or a broken water heater, you have a nice little emergency fund tucked away. Yes, easier said than done, but the point is to think about it before the unthinkable happens! If you are aware of what stressors may pop up and have planned ahead as best you can to have an action plan, you can then react more calmly—and rationally.
On top of this—and I have said it already and will say it again—make self-care a priority. A balanced mind will help you make better decisions in the every day, and in a crisis, too. Being aware of stress is not just for Stress Awareness Day, after all!
Do you feel that you manage stress well? Do you have a plan for managing stress in your life? Share with us in the comments!
Do you get muscle cramps caused by your asthma medicine?