Stress, Asthma, and Meditation

How stress can trigger asthma attacks and how meditation can help reduce chronic stress.

Studies have found that meditation can benefit people living with many different chronic illnesses like asthma.

Asthma is a chronic health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. In the United States alone, it’s estimated that over 25 million adults and children have some form of the disease, which causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways inside the lungs and makes it difficult for a person to breathe. The symptoms and severity vary for each person.

There is no cure for asthma, and asthma is a lifelong condition that requires ongoing management and regular appointments with a pulmonologist and/or allergist. There are a variety of medications that can treat asthma attacks and control symptoms. Avoiding triggers—anything that causes an asthma attack or makes symptoms worse—is also an important part of treatment.

Allergens (mold, pollen, pet dander, dust mites), smoke (including tobacco smoke and wood smoke), changes in the weather, respiratory infections, and physical exertion are all common asthma triggers.

Other asthma triggers include stress and strong emotions.

Understanding stress

In many circumstances, stress is a normal and even healthy response by the body. It’s what helps us react to sudden and potentially dangerous situations, like making a split-second decision while driving. Small doses of stress are also something many people seek out—for example, when watching a scary movie, or going on a theme park ride. These are examples of what is known as “acute stress.”

There is also chronic stress. This is the stress that causes people to feel overwhelmed, worn out, anxious, angry, or tense—and causes them to feel this way for extended periods of time. This type of stress is not healthy. It’s associated with physical pain, fatigue, social isolation, and sleep disorders (among many other problems). It’s also associated with serious long-term health conditions including cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorder, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Stress is also associated with mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression.

Stress and asthma

Both acute and chronic stress can trigger asthma attacks. Chronic stress can also make it more difficult to keep up with asthma management, and consequently, contribute to worse asthma control.

Acute stress is something that cannot entirely be avoided, and in some cases, should not entirely be avoided. Laughter, crying, and excitement are all emotional states that can trigger an asthma attack. But they are also healthy ways of expressing emotions, that may help a person reduce or avoid chronic stress.

Because stress has the potential to trigger an asthma attack, it is a topic that anyone with asthma should discuss with their healthcare provider. Know what has the potential to trigger an attack, what has triggered attacks in the past, and how to be prepared for an attack—for example, by keeping your quick-relief medication prescription up to date.

Additionally, you may want to consider activities that help reduce or prevent chronic stress, such as meditation.

Meditation and asthma

Meditation is a practice of focusing attention and awareness while minimizing thoughts and distractions. Studies have found that meditation can benefit people living with many different chronic illnesses, and there is some research that shows it can be beneficial to people who are living with asthma, helping to reduce distress and improve quality of life.

One benefit of meditation is that it takes very little to get started:

  • Start with the right setting. A place that is quiet and distraction free, where you can sit down or recline, whichever is more comfortable.
  • Find a video or audio recording. Cue up a video or audio recording to help guide you. There are many that are available for free.
  • You can also try it on your own. While guides are helpful, they are not always necessary. Set a timer (start with 3 to 5 minutes) and spend that time focusing on your breathing, the sounds around you, and how your body feels, while trying to let go of thoughts and distractions.

Remember, stress is a topic that you should discuss with your healthcare provider—they will be your best source of information. A healthcare provider can help you better understand the relationship between stress and asthma (and asthma and stress) and help you find healthy ways to manage both.

Article sources open article sources

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Asthma Facts.
American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Types of Asthma.
MedlinePlus. Asthma.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asthma in the US.
Lung & Sleep Specialists of North Texas. Should I See an Allergist or a Pulmonologist for My Asthma? August 6, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Management and Treatment.
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Emotions, Stress, and Depression.
Cleveland Clinic. Stress.
MedlinePlus. Stress and your health.
Yale Medicine. Chronic Stress.
Harvard Health Publishing. Is crying good for you?
NCI Dictionaries. Meditation.
MedlinePlus. How to Improve Mental Health.
Priyamvada Paudyal, Christina Jones, et al. Meditation for asthma: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Asthma, 2017. Vol. 55, No. 7.
Estelle T. Higgins, Richard J. Davidson, et al. Clinically relevant effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in individuals with asthma. Brain, Behavior, & Immunity — Health. Sept. 14, 2022.
Alice Boyes. 5 Meditation Tips for Beginners. Psychology Today. March 18, 2013.
Medline at Home. Mindfulness and meditation. April 23, 2020.

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