If you’re an allergy sufferer, your symptoms may leave you feeling anxious and struggling to cope. We spoke to Dr Chrissie Jones to learn more about allergies and anxiety - including how to deal with anxiety linked to respiratory allergies.
Can allergies cause anxiety?
Stress and anxiety are closely linked to allergies – not only potentially leading to their development, but also playing a role in making symptoms worse. (1,2,3,4)
In terms of your symptoms, it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between allergy and the impact of stress and anxiety. This is because the way our bodies respond can feel very similar. Anxiety and allergic reactions both include shortness of breath, chest tightness and a racing heart.
Allergy symptoms can also be incredibly frightening and lead to allergy anxiety and hypervigilance – we’re constantly on the lookout for threat and danger, or for signs of those bodily sensations. This can, in turn, act as a potential anxiety and stress trigger.
High-stress situations are more likely to cause this cycle. The challenges brought about by recent lockdowns and the impact of COVID 19 have been particularly stressful and anxiety-inducing for lots of us.
There are some strategies you can use to help cope with anxious feelings and reverse the cycle.
Manage the physical sensations of your anxiety
Shallow breathing and tense muscles are linked to stress, worry and anxiety. Try the following techniques to help combat these (choose time when your anxiety is low).
- Mindful and calm breathing – consciously slowing down your breath, and breathing deeply and gently
- Muscle relaxation – squeezing or tensing muscles in your body
- Gentle exercise – try going for a walk, run, swim, cycle or yoga. Or something which exerts some physical effort such as gardening or housework
Increase your activity levels to ease allergy anxiety
Sometimes when we feel anxious and low, taking part in any activity can feel difficult. This means we can stop doing things which we normally do and enjoy. While we might feel relief in the short-term by not doing these activities, this only serves to reinforce our avoidance.
- Create a list of your routine, with necessary activities and those you enjoy
- Create a ladder of the list and rank your activities by easy, medium or difficult
- Schedule your activities using a diary or calendar
- Do the activity and rate your mood and sense of achievement after
- Review your week. How did doing the activities affect your mood? What can you do next week? Were there any challenges? Think about how you might overcome them
Identify negative and unhelpful thoughts
Sometimes, the extent to which we are worried or anxious outweighs the actual risk we face. This can make us behave differently, such as avoiding situations or taking too much medicine. And this can lead our bodies to respond in ways which end up reinforcing our unhelpful behaviours and thoughts.
Try to practise more balanced thinking by challenging those unhelpful thoughts and forming more realistic ones, based on what is more likely to happen
Identify your worries
We all worry about things from time to time, but sometimes our worries can feel overwhelming and unmanageable. This tends to happen when our worries are about things which are uncertain, unpredictable and uncontrollable.
Identify your problem and try some solutions
Although it’s best to let go of some worries (ones which are about uncertain, unpredictable and uncontrollable events), other worries relate to current and realistic problems which may be resolved by practical solutions.
- Identify the problem and what you can do about it (even if your options seem far-fetched)
- Look at the pros and cons of all the solutions, and select your best option
- Plan and schedule how you will do it
- Put your plan into action
- Review how well it went. Did it work? Do you have to go back to your list? What got in the way?
For more detailed guidance on managing anxieties, please visit getselfhelp.co.uk
All content and advice is provided on behalf of Allergy UK
- Smith HE, Jones CJ. Psychological interventions in asthma. Curr Treat Opt in Allerg 2015;2,155-168.
- Chida Y, Hamer M, Steptoe A. A bidirectional relationship between psychosocial factors and atopic disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychosom Med 2008;70(1):102–116.
- Wright RJ, Cohen RT, Cohen S. The impact of stress on the development and expression of atopy. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immun 2005;5(1):23–29
- Yonas MA, Lange NE, Celedon JC. Psychosocial stress and asthma morbidity. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immun 2012;12(2):202.
- Paudyal P, Jones CJ, Grindey C, Dawood R, Smith HE. Meditation for asthma: systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Asthma 2017;30,1-8.