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How My Emotions Affect My Asthma Symptoms

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As someone who has lived with asthma for many years, I know my symptoms can be triggered by a host of things. These can include seasonal changes, allergies, certain physical activities, and perhaps more surprisingly, strong emotions.

And I am not alone in this. The Asthma Society of Ireland reports that some people find their asthma to be exacerbated by strong emotions.  According to Asthma UK intense emotions can affect the way we breathe, which can in turn trigger a flare up of asthma symptoms.

In my experience with asthma, the following emotions can have an effect on my asthma.

Happiness and laughter   

I recently stumbled across a meme that read ‘If he makes you laugh so uncontrollably that your asthma kicks in, then you know he’s the one’. I am lucky enough (because my partner makes me laugh, not because I have asthma) to appreciate the sentiment. I am one of those people who always laughs a little too long after a funny incident. On many occasions, I have laughed so hard that it has escalated into coughing and wheezing. In my case, it’s often the sign of a great joke!

Laughing with my best friends is one of my best stress relievers, and fortunately I laugh very often. But laughter has also proved to be a very good indicator of how well my asthma is controlled. On days when I feel wheezy, a laugh soon turns into a drawn out, high-pitched whistle. I have learned to embrace my wheezy laugh – in fact, this is often the cause of more laughter as it sounds so unusual. But this can also be a sign that my asthma isn’t as controlled as it should be and I may need to take extra precautions.

Grief and sadness

I have always been a sensitive and emotional person. I wear my heart on my sleeve when it comes to expressing any type of emotion and I often think deeply about situations and other people.

My grandmother Brig was one of my favourite people to spend time with. She was a wise and intelligent lady with great wit and a wonderful sense of humour. She was kind and caring despite having lived with dementia for over ten years. Even though she lost her language and her memory, she was still a joy to be around. I always felt a great sense of comfort when I visited her. It felt like a break away from any drama or stress I was experiencing.

I knew when her time came to pass away that I would be losing someone that I truly loved unconditionally.

We had a typical Irish wake for my grandmother: we stayed up all night with her and welcomed hundreds of callers into her home, all giving their sympathies and sharing their memories of Brig with us. Each family member visited her room one last time to say goodbye. When my time came I didn’t want to leave the room. It was so hard to say goodbye.

I was so overcome with emotion that I couldn’t control my breathing. I was taking in quick, short breaths as I sobbed. Without realising, I was experiencing asthma symptoms. I had started to cough and gasp for breath when my mother gave me my reliever inhaler. My father took me out of the house and talked me through taking slow, deep breaths until I felt my breathing was under control again. I couldn’t believe that I was so short of breath from simply crying. It was another experience that helped me to better understand my asthma triggers. It was another reminder to always be prepared.

Stress and anxiety

Stress and asthma are a terrible combination. In my experience, stress can cause asthma flare ups and asthma flare ups can in turn cause stress. I have always been a bit of a worrier and an over-thinker. When I am juggling too many tasks, or when I feel overwhelmed, my whole body becomes tense. As part of this, I have experienced tightness in my chest, coughing and shortness of breath during stressful periods.

While I may ignore my tense shoulders and soldier on, having asthma symptoms will stop me in my tracks. I have to stop and breathe deeply, because I have to. I use my reliever inhaler if I need to and I give myself the time needed to recover.

However, I didn’t always have this reaction to chest tightness and shortness of breath. When my asthma took a bad turn a couple of years ago, I wasn’t mentally or emotionally prepared for asthma attacks.

On one occasion, I was up late at night suffering with coughing fits and tightness in my chest. It felt like I couldn’t get enough air to my lungs. My chest was sore and tight and this worsened with every cough. I had taken my reliever inhaler and my symptoms had not improved.

This was when the panic set in.

With every cough my breathing became faster and faster. I felt like I didn’t have time between coughs to catch my breath. I started hyperventilating, my heart was racing and I was terrified. I went to the emergency doctor for treatment. The doctor gave me the reassurance I needed. She explained that panic had been a major contributor to the attack.

This is something I remind myself of during asthmatic episodes. It has helped me to remain calm and take action when I need to. Having a calm and positive mindset has really improved my ability to manage any asthma symptoms that I have.

UK/MED/20/0103 April 2020