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Strong Emotions, Stress, and Depression

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2023

Strong emotions and stress are linked to asthma in many ways. Strong emotions can trigger asthma symptoms and asthma attacks. This may happen because of breathing changes, such as hyperventilation. Strong emotions can cause hyperventilation (rapid, shallow breathing).1,2

Severe asthma increases the risk of anxiety and depression. Ongoing (chronic) and other stressors can worsen asthma outcomes. Managing stress is an important part of controlling asthma. Talk to your doctor about ways to reduce stress and manage your mental health.3,4

Which emotions can trigger asthma symptoms?

Strong positive and negative emotions can trigger asthma symptoms. Some examples include:1,2

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Panic
  • Excitement

These are not all the possible emotions that can trigger asthma symptoms. Breathing symptoms triggered by strong emotions are a sign of asthma. Knowing that emotions trigger your symptoms can help your doctor diagnose your asthma.2

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How can strong emotions and stress cause asthma symptoms?

Emotions themselves do not cause asthma symptoms. But your breathing can change during strong emotions. Strong emotions can also activate your body’s stress response. These processes can lead to narrow airways and asthma symptoms.2

When strong emotions lead to an asthma attack, it can be harder to control symptoms. For example, panic attacks may lead to asthma symptoms. Following your asthma action plan can be harder during a panic attack. Talk to your doctor about how to handle these situations.1

How are chronic stress and depression linked to asthma?

Asthma and mental health both affect each other. People with asthma are more likely to experience anxiety and depression. This may be because of:3

  • Overlapping problems with inflammation and the immune system
  • The symptoms of asthma causing panic attacks or anxiety
  • The burdens of managing asthma leading to chronic anxiety and depression, especially in children

Anxiety and depression also affect asthma outcomes. Depression in parents can make asthma worse for children. Anxiety, depression, chronic stress, and exposure to violent behavior are linked to:4-6

  • Worse control of asthma symptoms
  • More asthma attacks
  • More visits to the emergency department
  • Worse quality of life

These links are due to a combination of factors. Chronic stress and mental health conditions affect asthma by:4,6

  • Making your airways more inflamed and sensitive
  • Affecting how your body responds to medicine
  • Increasing other risk factors for asthma, including smoking and obesity
  • Making it harder to manage asthma and take medicine

Doctors have a harder time diagnosing anxiety and depression in people with asthma. This may be because of overlapping symptoms. For example, chest tightness is a symptom of both anxiety and asthma. Talk to your doctor about the difference between panic attacks and asthma attacks.4

How can I control strong emotions and stress?

Managing strong emotions and stress is important to improve asthma control. Talk to your doctor about mental health screening. They may suggest therapy or medicine to improve mental health. Taking your asthma drugs can help control symptoms. This in itself can reduce stress.2

Other ways to manage stress include:7

  • Identifying what causes you stress
  • Avoiding situations that cause stress
  • Trying relaxation or breathing techniques
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Getting enough sleep