If you suffer from asthma, stress is no joke. Stress is a major contributing factor in asthma flare-ups, and, when uncontrolled, it can even cause a range of other deadly diseases. But by managing stress, you can help protect your health and control your asthma symptoms.
If you’re like many people, you may be at a loss for healthy ways to combat stress. Taking time each day to perform relaxation exercises can help you lower your overall stress levels. When you find yourself in a stressful moment anyway, use some quick relaxation techniques to help focus your mind.
The relaxation response is a state of alert and focused calm in which stress hormones drop off and blood pressure decreases. Knowing how to elicit this response is one of the most important things you can do to control symptoms of disease. Practicing the relaxation response for 10 to 20 minutes each day can make a huge difference in your experience of stress-related diseases like asthma. Along with medications like Advair and Singulair, eliciting the relaxation response can help you decrease the frequency of asthma exacerbations, or eliminate them entirely.
You can learn to elicit the relaxation response through a number of different techniques, including progressive muscle relaxation and body scanning. No one relaxation exercise is suited to everyone. You may need to experiment with several different techniques to find the one that works best for you.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Body Scanning
Progressive muscle relaxation and body scanning are two similar relaxation exercises that involve focusing your awareness on sensations in your body. Progressive muscle relaxation is easy to learn and is a good option as long as you don’t have any back problems or aren’t prone to cramps or muscle spasms.
To practice progressive muscle relaxation, put on comfortable clothes and lie down on your bed or on the floor. Start by tensing the muscles in your dominant foot as hard as you can; count to 10, then release the muscles while focusing your attention on how the foot feels as the tension drains from it. Then do the other foot. Progress through the rest of your body in the following order:
- Dominant calf
- Non-dominant calf
- Dominant thigh
- Non-dominant thigh
- Hips and buttocks
- Dominant hand and arm
- Non-dominant hand and arm
- Neck and shoulders
Try to tense only one muscle group at a time. By the time you have finished, you should be experiencing the relaxation response.
If you have problems with muscle spasms or back problems, you should try body scanning instead. It works the same way, except instead of tensing groups of muscles you’ll simply focus your attention on the sensations in each body part and think about relaxing each one. Notice if any part of your body feels uncomfortable, tense, or painful. When you get to your face, pay particular attention to relaxing each part of it — your jaw, lips, tongue, cheeks, forehead, scalp, and temples.
Taking time each day to practice your relaxation response can help you decrease your general stress levels, but you can’t really take the time to perform these lengthy exercises when stressful situations arise during work or your interactions with loved ones. Instead, you can use visualization or other sensory techniques to help yourself relax.
One way to beat stress that arises throughout the day is through scent. Burn a relaxing scented candle or wear a relaxing perfume. Some relaxing scents include lavender, orange, Roman chamomile, and bergamot.
Other people relax by visualizing something calming in the heat of a stressful moment. Picture your children’s faces, or imagine yourself snuggling with your pet. Visualize yourself doing something you enjoy, such as a favorite sport or hobby. Without getting distracted from the task at hand, take a few moments to visualize every detail of a scene or activity that relaxes you, whether it’s fishing at the lake, skiing at your favorite resort, or working in your garden. Alternatively, think about a memory that makes you happy.
Physical movement or sensation can also help you focus. If you’re at work, do some simple exercises at your desk. If you need to be discreet, help yourself manage stress and stay focused by pressing your forefinger and the tip of your thumb together. If you’re able, get up and go outside for a short walk that can help you get fresh air and burn off nervous energy.
Experiment with different techniques that help you manage stress when you’re facing situations that are less stressful, such as sitting in traffic or cooking a meal. Ideally, you’ll be able to work out what helps you most before the biggest stresses come to call.
If you’re coping with a chronic health condition like asthma, stress management can help you keep symptoms at bay. Take time every day to relax, and be prepared to cope with the stresses that arise throughout the day. It takes practice, but with time, you’ll find that you can control your stress, rather than letting it control you.