You know the physical effects of asthma, but do you really understand the emotional and social effects of asthma on your life?
The Feelings That Can Come With Asthma
Asthma doesn’t just take a physical toll on those who suffer from it but also an emotional and social one.
Difficulty breathing can be an upsetting experience, especially during an asthma attack. It is common for people to become afraid of dying during these attacks and for them to fear future episodes.
Asthma attacks are also an unpredictable event for many people. And for all people, unpredictable events are usually more stressful than ones you can plan and prepare for. The feeling that an attack can happen at any time can make people with asthma feel like they’re always in danger.
Asthma and stress can work in a cycle. This WebMD article explores this relationship. “Asthma is triggered by many things, and one of them is stress,” says Pramod Kelkar, M.D.
Kelkar, a fellow with the American Academy of Asthma Allergy and Immunology and a physician at Allergy and Asthma Care in Maple Grove, Minnesota, says in this article that stress can worsen the physical symptoms those with asthma already suffer from. “Uncontrolled emotions can work the nerves and cause constriction of muscles, like the smooth muscles of the airways in the lungs. They tighten up and constrict, which can worsen wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness in people with asthma.”
And because each person’s experience is different, stress isn’t the only emotional reaction. Many feel:
- Fear and anxiety
- Extreme alertness
- Loss of control
According to one Canadian study, those with asthma have a doubled risk of having one or more anxiety or depressive disorders. For years, doctors have recognized that emotional stress and depression can be linked to asthma.
A similar study found that these psychological barriers can also hurt how well patients stick to their treatments.
Effects on Your Day-to-Day Life
The psychological impact that asthma has on a person can depend on many things:
- Asthma severity, how serious their case is
- Limitation of activities
- Their social and family support
- Age when symptoms started
- How much they know about asthma
Asthma and the feelings that can come with it have a real effect on patients’ lives. A study from Johns Hopkins Advanced Studies in Medicine found that “asthma impairs patients’ well-being and can significantly interfere with the ability to undertake normal daily activities.”
In 2002 in the United States, adults missed 11.8 million workdays and children 5 to 17 years old missed 14.7 million school days because of their asthma. And 33% of caregivers missed work because of their child’s asthma.
This can hit kids especially hard. Asthma is the second leading cause of limited activity in children. Missing school can slow their development and success in academics.
Many parents also limit their children’s physical and social activities because they’re worried about their safety. Limiting these sorts of activities, like sports, can cost kids exercise, healthy habits, and some opportunities for social interaction and growth, which can isolate them from other kids and make them feel alone.
An Australian survey found that in the workplace, asthma and the missed days asthma caused hurt productivity and people’s sense of job security.
This survey also found that asthma was able to hurt overall quality of life. Half of those surveyed felt they missed out on things because of their asthma. “Many simply wanted to do things like sleep better, have more choice over career paths, exercise more, and be able to laugh without fear of an asthma attack.”
What You Can Do
There is no one way to deal with your asthma, but there are some things you can do to improve how you live with asthma:
- Acknowledge and accept the feelings your asthma brings up. Facing your feelings head on can help you identify problems and ways to cope. Talk to your kids about how they’re feeling about their asthma, both in their daily lives and during an attack.
- Take an active role in taking care of yourself. Learn about your asthma and ask questions. Help your kids understand what asthma does. Just knowing what’s happening can help you feel more in control.
- Teach others. Helping others understand asthma and how it works can help them better support you, help you feel included, and help you become an expert on your asthma.
- Ask for help. In 2011, 1 in 12 people suffered from asthma. You’re not alone. Your family and friends can be a wonderful team to support you and help you tackle stressful situations.
- Find a care provider you trust and feel comfortable with. Trusting your doctor and his treatment is an important part of overcoming stress caused by your asthma.
- Try relaxation exercises. Yoga, Pilates, meditation, deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and clearing negative thoughts can all help you reduce stress.
- Live a healthy lifestyle. Eating right, exercising, and getting a good night’s sleep can help you recharge physically and emotionally, which can reduce stress and asthma attacks.