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The Emotional Toll of Asthma

Reading time | 3 mins

Asthma anxiety

After my asthma diagnosis, I developed a whole new set of worries that I like to call my “asthma anxiety.” Every day my mind would race with a new set of worries. Did I bring my rescue inhaler in my purse? Should I go to that outdoor activity or will I have an asthma attack? Did I remember to take my maintenance medication before I left the house?

My asthma diagnosis affects me both physically and emotionally. After my diagnosis, I faced a whole new world of confidence issues. I felt judged by others and started to doubt myself.

I had always identified as a runner. I loved pushing myself to go further and faster. I was never the best runner on my team or in a group, but I enjoyed how it made me feel. I built a community around it.

My diagnosis came while I was training for a half marathon. Nothing could have prepared me for how other people reacted to the news. Either they didn’t believe me, or they thought they knew what was best for me. This filled me with doubt. I started to wonder if I was to blame for getting asthma.

Everyone has an opinion

I stopped working out because I was afraid I’d have an attack. Exercise had always been my way to de-stress. Without it, I was at a loss for what to do. I had to relearn how to use my body, safely. It didn’t come easy, and of course, everyone had an opinion.

My worst experience was on a first date. I met someone for a drink close to where I was working at the time. It came out in our conversation that I was training for the Chicago Marathon. They asked what my finishing time was going to be. I felt the need to justify my answer by saying I had asthma. I couldn’t push myself to run as fast as I used to.

I’ll never forget the way they responded to me. “Aren’t you basically killing yourself by doing that? Are you trying to die?”

I could feel my jaw drop. I wanted to scream, “NO!”

I’m still not sure why I said yes to a second date with a person who would say something so misinformed to someone they’d just met. Maybe a part of me wanted to prove them wrong. Maybe I wanted to show that even though I had asthma, I could still challenge myself and set a goal. I was still in control.

Tips for finding a balance

There are good days and bad days with asthma. Over time, I’ve learned how to reduce my worry and guilt over my condition.

Find a great healthcare provider

Without my doctor, I don’t know where I would be. I likely would have spent more money and time in urgent care or hospitals. Every appointment is an open dialogue about what’s working and what’s not regarding asthma control. The more I’m able to manage my condition, the less worried I am about an attack. I feel more in control.  

Take time to relax

Exercise relaxes me, but I had to learn my limits. Taking up yoga and lifting weights allows me to get a good workout without pushing myself too much. I also practice deep breathing when I feel anxiety coming on. This happens most when I’m afraid of having an asthma attack.

Ignore the naysayers

For the longest time, I felt the need to respond to negativity and defend myself. I’ve learned that it’s better to let their comments roll right off my back and lead by example. If you want to run a marathon, climb a mountain, or become an opera singer, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – make a plan with your doctor and figure out how you can achieve your goals with asthma. People may find something negative to say, but it’s your choice to listen.

Reduce the stigma

Asthma is just another piece of what makes me unique. I don’t hate my asthma. It doesn’t always make life easy, but I’m not ashamed of it. I want to talk about how asthma has impacted my life because it’s important for me to help others on their journey.

Finding healthy ways to deal with emotional impact of asthma is just as important as physical health in your asthma management plan. Are you considering all aspects of your asthma?

RESP-US-NP-00078 AUGUST 2018