Now that the holidays are coming to an end, we can just enjoy winter, right? Well, for children and families managing asthma, cold weather can be a cause for worry and stress, not a winter wonderland.
Colds, cold air, and sick days are all seasonal stressors. Stressors contribute to worsening asthma. Consider these factors:
- Temperatures fall in winter; therefore, we are more likely to breathe in cold air.
- Breathing in cold air can trigger asthma symptoms; consequently, some children with asthma may have more frequent episodes in winter.
- Children catch more colds in January and February (inside recess anyone?); then, parents have to keep their kids home from school.
Naturally, these facts worry parents. This worry can then be transferred to our children. In fact, it can feel like you are spiraling down a path of worry, just waiting for stress to become too much and trip you (and your little one) up.
But, as with most worries, tackling your fear and making informed decisions can effectively smooth out your path and reduce stress. The trick is to learn to calm your body’s natural internal alarm system. Here are a few suggestions to try, when you find yourself worrying about how winter might impact your child’s asthma:
Talk back to the worry, have your child give it a name even!
Acknowledging stress out loud can grant you a sense of control over feelings of worry and help to diminish them. This is a great coping mechanism to teach to younger children.
Teach your child to recognize situations and behaviors that heighten the risk of an asthma attack.
To better understand which behaviors and conditions are associated with worsening asthma for your youngster try keeping an informal log. Sometimes strong emotions, such as stress, can make it difficult to accurately remember and assess situations, so a diary can help.
Use language that diminishes your worry or stress.
Avoid absolutes. Words like “always, never, everyone, forever” which can give power to stress and anxiety. Help children develop the skill to distinguish between what is possible and what is probable. This applies to their asthma and to life! Often worried children ask “what if” questions. Brief reassurance, realistic well-informed answers, and reminders to re-focus on the positive can help a child turn off their worry switch.
Practice belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing with your child.
Practice breathing techniques with your child at a neutral time when breathing isn’t compromised. Try some different mindfulness-based exercises. You can transform activities like eating, walking, and even washing the dishes into re-set moments! Mindfulness practices have been shown to reduce stress and help you break negative thought patterns. These and other experiential techniques (such as learning the relaxation response and using guided imagery) promote emotional resiliency and are life-long skills that you (and your child) can use in a variety of situations to calm your body and mind.
It may be surprising, but managing asthma is a great opportunity for your child to explore the interconnectedness of the mind and the body, and to develop life-long coping skills. The relationship between anxiety and asthma is bi-directional: increased stress can worsen asthma symptoms, while decreased stress can help manage asthma symptoms!
Lisa offers psychotherapy, conducts evaluations, and consults with children, parents, schools, and physicians. She has developed a specialized interest in working with children and families managing chronic health conditions and co-occurring anxiety, stress, and pain.
In addition to serving as a clinical psychologist based in an elementary school, she have a private independent practice in Oak Park, Illinois.
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