Can Stress Cause Asthma Flare Ups?

Published March 28, 2018
Woman using inhaler to treat asthma

Research suggests stress directly impacts asthmatic symptoms and can cause flare-ups in both adult and children. Managing symptoms of stress can help ease and prevent stress induced asthma attacks.

How Stress Affects Asthma

Studies have shown stress can not only induce asthma attacks, but it also worsen asthma symptoms in general. Like asthma, stress impacts your mental and physical health. Stress and asthma play off of each other, targeting the same physical and mental structures.

What Happens Physically and Mentally

When you feel stressed, certain brain structures and systems become activated. How you view the given stressor will influence your mental and physical response to it. If you view the stressor as life threatening and impossible to cope with, your reaction will be much more intense than a person who views the stressor as manageable. In people with asthma, if they view the situation as very difficult or impossible to cope with, the stress can intensify their asthmatic symptoms by increasing their airway inflammatory reaction. This ultimately increases the duration, severity, and frequency of asthmatic symptoms.

An interesting study noted chronic stress and one-time highly stressful events increased the likelihood of an asthma attack by two times in children. In children who were already stressed out and subsequently experienced a highly stressful moment, they tended to experience an increase in asthmatic symptoms and attacks within two weeks. In children who were not highly stressed but who also experienced intense, negative life events, their symptoms showed up within four weeks.

Preventing Stress Induced Asthma

With children and adults who are genetically at risk for asthmatic symptoms, managing stress in healthy ways is critical. Using a combination of identifying your stressors and employing relaxation techniques may help ease your stress-induced asthma.

Identifying Triggers

Figuring out what triggers your stress can be tricky. It may be helpful to note your triggers and stressors in a journal. Think about the last time you felt super stressed out and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What event or situation led to me feeling stressed?
  • On a scale of one to ten how stressed did I feel in the moment, and how stressed do I feel thinking about it now?
  • What did I feel in my body?
  • What thoughts went through my mind?
  • How did I cope with the situation?
  • How soon after the event or encounter did my asthma flare up? On a scale of one to ten, how severe was it?

Use these questions as a general baseline for how you can identify what situations, people, or events tend to stress you out. By keeping track of your general stressors, you will be able to better prepare yourself for similar encounters or situations that tend to cause asthmatic flare-ups.

Healthy Coping Skills

Woman supporting her girlfriend

Once you have identified your common triggers, explore which stress reducing technique works best for you. You may want to try:

  • Journaling: Writing down your thoughts can help you process a stressful situation which may reduce the intensity of your emotional response.
  • Talk to a trusted person: Sharing your experience with a safe person can help you feel supported, heard, and validated, which can improve your mood and reduce stress levels.
  • Listen to a guided relaxation podcast or video: These are usually a few minutes long and aim to help you get in touch with your body and fully let go and relax. Once relaxed, you can better process a stressful situation.
  • Fill out a coping skills worksheet: Better understand your stress and increase your coping skills by spending some time self-reflecting.

Seek Appropriate Help

If you believe you are experiencing stress-induced asthma and are feeling overwhelmed, it is best to speak with your doctor about it. He or she can recommend appropriate treatment and possibly refer you to a therapist or counselor who can assist you with managing your stress.

Understanding Stress-Induced Asthma

Get to know how your stressors impact your asthmatic symptoms. With stress-reducing techniques and the guidance of your doctor and possibly a counselor, your stress-induced asthma may decrease significantly.

Can Stress Cause Asthma Flare Ups?