Anxiety & Asthma – Are they related?
Like many Americans out there, I suffer from anxiety. Some people have a little bit of anxiety, while others have a lot. Mine is a consistent experience, mixed in with all the issues and situations I go through (or suffer through), situations that I attach my anxiety to. I blame my anxiety for my claustrophobia, for my fear of crowds and social situations, for my fear of being alone, and for my strong discomfort surrounding meditation. As a woman with anxiety, I’m very aware of how counterintuitive it sounds to say I dislike meditation.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a few different therapists for my anxiety. And every single one of them has asked me if I meditate or if I was interested in meditating to help with my anxiety. In the beginning, I did try to do it. During a therapy session, I followed the voice of my therapist and closed my eyes and focused on my breathing. I hated every second of it, but I wanted to give it a chance, and I really was open to any ways I could help manage my anxiety. The meditation sessions didn’t last long, and I gave up on that outlet, unfortunately.
I do believe that meditation (not to be confused with medication; although I do think medication can help too, but we’ll save that conversation for another time) can be a huge benefit for those struggling with anxiety, and I wish I didn’t make things so complicated for myself. Let me explain what I experience when trying to meditate. And when I say meditate, I just mean being in the moment. My biggest issue that I struggle with is focusing on my breathing. If I do it too long, I start to get anxious, hating that feeling between when you’re done letting out air, but have not breathed any air in, yet. Maybe I sound crazy, and you don’t even recognize a moment like that when you’re breathing, but I do. It’s a split second, but it’s there. Then as I start to panic, I wonder how the next breath will feel and if I’ll be able to breathe in again. Again, this might sound completely crazy, but it’s something I think about every time I’m asked by a therapist to try meditating or every time someone tells me to relax and take a deep breath. I haven’t really been able to come up with any experiences or reasons that breathing would make me anxious. But today, I’ve come to a realization.
Along with anxiety, allergies, eczema, and all the “ailments” that affect my life (so dramatic of me), I also have asthma. Yes, I may be one of the only adults you hear about that suffers from asthma. The doctors told me that, like many children who grow up with asthma, I should grow out of it into my adult years. But here I am, still taking my inhalers and still seeing a pulmonologist. Today, I’m happy to say that my asthma is well under control. Of course, there are many things I have to look out for, but nothing too difficult. I have to manage my time around animals, because my allergies instigate my asthma. I also have to be cognizant of feather comforters and pillows at hotels, another lovely allergy of mine. Exercise, running, or walking too quickly also frustrates my asthma, so I usually take my inhaler before activities. But in the beginning, my asthma was far from under control. I spent two weeks in the hospital with an asthma attack and pneumonia in fifth grade. For about six or seven years after that, without a doubt at least once a year, I would take a trip to the hospital due to an asthma attack.
I’m not sharing this information to complain about my health issues. I think there is a correlation between my “fear of focusing on breathing” and my “traumatic” experiences dealing with my asthma. I really never thought that something as basic as asthma could have such an affect on me, or anyone. But it seems that it can. And therefore, I’m guessing that any other illnesses that people experience in their daily lives could create more anxiety for them.
In a study that tested anxiety sensitivity related to asthma, researchers found that, “individuals who fear anxiety-related physical sensations experience greater anxiety and exacerbation of asthma in response to asthma-like sensations (172). So it’s been proven that there is a correlation between the two, and could be an answer to why meditating makes me anxious. I think recognizing this is a step in the right direction for me to get a better hold on my anxiety. For me, it’s helpful not only to know when I’m anxious or to know what makes me anxious, but also where my anxieties come from. Now that I know my asthma and my asthma symptoms can bring on anxiety for me, I can address that with my therapist, and maybe even start practicing “asthma-like feelings” to regulate the experience.
My hope is that this wasn’t just a realization for me, but maybe you, too. If you have anxiety, maybe you’ll see a new trigger. If you don’t have anxiety, maybe you’ll see a new trigger that you didn’t see before, and maybe it makes you angry or sad or lonely. And noticing these things can really help us address difficult feelings and difficult situations so we can hopefully be happier and healthier beings.