Manage Stress to Keep Asthma in Control

Learning to manage stress and relax is not easy with today's busy lifestyle. Emotional stress is a common trigger for asthma.

Common Symptoms of Stress

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Trembling or shakiness
  • Upset stomach
  • Muscle tension
  • Tight jaw
  • Headache
  • Lack of concentration
  • Fatigue/low motivation
  • Rapid and shallow breathing

Make a Plan to Reduce Stress

Think about the different events or situations that cause you to feel stress. Write them down. This may help you better prepare for the things that you know cause stress, or make changes to avoid them altogether. If doing this kind of exercise feels overwhelming, or simply feels like too much to do on your own, engage a trusted friend, family member, member of a spiritual community, or psychotherapist to help you.

Tips for a Low-Stress Life

Here are some basic tips to help manage stress:

  • Practice relaxation techniques. Performed regularly, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation and imagery can successfully relieve physical and emotional stress and tension.
  • Exercise most days of the week. Physical exercise is a quick and easy way to relieve stress-related tension. Aerobic exercise has been shown to increase chemicals in the brain that positively affect your mood. If your asthma is triggered by exercise, start slow. Stretching also reduces stress by relaxing tense muscles.
  • Spend time with friends and family. Balancing work and play is important. Plan ahead. Set aside time to spend with those you love, and whose company you enjoy.
  • Arrange for time alone each day. Even 10 minutes alone allows your inner voice to surface, which helps put things into perspective.
  • Get enough sleep each night. Lack of sleep can leave you feeling out of control. It can make it difficult to regulate your emotions. Lack of sleep can leave your body feeling tense and you may feel less equipped to deal with stressful situations.
  • Eat three balanced meals each day. Too much stress can drain your energy, leaving you weak, fatigued and feeling even more stressed! Avoid foods that make stress worse such as caffeine, alcohol and refined (processed) foods. Instead, increase your body's supply of the nutrients needed to handle stressful situations. Choose fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy products.
  • Set short- and long-term goals. Choose realistic goals that you can track and meet. This will make you feel more in control of what you’re spending your time and energy doing. You'll be able to see the steps you are taking to reach your goals. If you’re not making as much progress as you hoped, maybe the goal is loftier than you first thought for where you are currently at. That’s OK. You can always adjust your goals.
  • Talk with someone about your problems. Don't let your problems build up. A trusted supporter can sometimes help you see a problem more clearly or help you think of practical solutions. If you are in need of more support, see Finding Support.

Steps to Better Breathing with Asthma

Practicing deep-breathing exercises, like "Belly Breathing" (or diaphragmatic breathing) can help with the overall management of asthma. When you are experiencing shortness of breath, try using a "Pursed Lip" breathing technique to relax your airways.

Watch the demonstration videos to learn more about these breathing techniques.

Belly Breathing

Pursed Lip Breathing

Page last updated: November 28, 2022

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