Center on Psychiatric Disability and Co-Occurring Medical Conditions

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Transcript for Podcast: Breathe Better, Live Better

[Host]: Thank you for visiting the Center on Psychiatric Disability and Co-Occurring Medical Conditions. This recording is part of our Health and Wellness Podcast Library. For more information about our Center, please visit us our web site at WWW.CMHSRP.UIC.EDU/HEALTH.

In America today, around 20 million people live with asthma. That’s 1 out of 15 people in this country! Chances are that you, or someone you know, has asthma. If that’s the case, then you know that asthma makes it hard to breathe. This is because asthma causes temporary narrowing of the airways that carry oxygen to the lungs. When this happens, people start wheezing, coughing, and have shortness of breath. Asthma attacks are typically triggered by allergies, cigarette smoke, pollution, exercise, or even a bad cold. With asthma, simple things like running to catch a bus or taking the stairs can make it hard to breathe.

While many of us know about asthma symptoms, few of us know that this condition also affects a person’s emotional wellness. Indeed, researchers have found that people with asthma are two to four times more likely than others to have a mental health diagnosis, particularly one of anxiety, panic disorder, or depression. By the same token, for people with asthma, anxiety and panic can make breathing symptoms worsen very quickly. And, while scientists are still learning about the links between psychiatric conditions and asthma, there’s no question that coping with asthma can be stressful. Sometimes, it can even lead to panic attacks.

When your stress levels rise – be it problems with relationships, family, money, work, or a mental health condition – asthma symptoms can kick into overdrive. This then can make people feel more stressed. It’s often a bad cycle – stress makes asthma worse, and then, asthma becomes one more thing to feel stressed out about!

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to manage your asthma. First of all, it’s essential to talk regularly with your doctor about any changes in your breathing, your asthma triggers, and medications you take, including for mental illness. Your doctor is an important partner in making sure that you stay well. He or she will help you make an Asthma Management Plan to keep your asthma symptoms under control. If your doctor has prescribed medications for you, like inhalers, make sure to take them just as your doctor has directed. Finally, some doctors recommend keeping a breathing journal, where you write about your symptoms every day to identify asthma triggers. Identifying, and then, avoiding your asthma triggers can help you have more symptom-free days.

But, what about managing your stress? As wonderful as it would be to live in a stress-free world, we all know that’s not realistic. Everyone experiences stress; it is a part of everyday life. The good news is that you can learn effective ways to relax, which has been proven to help people manage both asthma and mental wellness. You might want to start by identifying the things that stress you out, so you can try your best to avoid those situations. You can track stress triggers in a journal, with a trusted friend, with a peer provider, or with a health professional.

Other people practice relaxation exercises, which combine deep breathing, pleasant mental imagery, releasing muscle tension, and clearing negative thoughts. Getting enough sleep is important, as well. I don’t know about you, but when I am not sleeping well, it’s easier to feel stressed out about big and small things. You can also take time each day to do something that you love and makes you feel relaxed, like reading, working on crafts, listening to music, or spending time with family or friends. This brings us to what many people consider the most important buffer against stress: social support. If you are feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed, take some time to talk with someone you love and trust.

One note of caution: About a quarter of people with asthma also smoke cigarettes. Some people who smoke feel that it’s relaxing. However, smoke from cigarettes harms your body in many ways and is doubly harmful for people with asthma. Tobacco smoke can be a powerful asthma trigger – I know it is for me. And, it can cause additional lung diseases like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. If you are among the 25% of people with asthma who smokes tobacco, we strongly recommend that you talk to your supporters or doctor about ways to quit. You can find a session on tips to quit smoking in the UIC Center’s Podcast Library.

Learning to relax before you feel stressed is an important tool to managing both your asthma and your mental health. Between reducing stress, following your treatment plans, and avoiding asthma triggers, you can be on your way to more symptom-free days. Remember, though, that asthma can be serious and, at times, life-threatening. If you have an asthma attack, please seek emergency care immediately. If you suspect you have asthma, but have never talked with a health professional about it, please do so as soon as possible.

For more information about asthma, visit the Asthma Health Center at

[Host]: Thank you for listening. You can listen to additional podcasts or download a transcript by visiting us at and clicking the link for Podcast Library.

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