Coping strategies

People we interviewed mentioned various ways that they dealt with having severe asthma and its consequences. These ranged from the importance of planning ahead, finding different ways to do things, and learning to be independent. Not everyone was able to manage by themselves, with some people having family members as carers. The most common themes were need for acceptance of the illness and ways to manage an acute situation.

Ian sums up how to live the best life possible.

Denise realises that she needs to be able to manage by herself.

Acceptance of the condition long term resonated with the people we interviewed.

People with severe asthma explained that really there was no choice but to accept the situation and get on with life, as complaining does not change anything and giving in means the fight is over.

Frank spoke of ‘mastering’ severe asthma.

Marg just gets on with it despite the discomfort.

Some people with severe asthma coped initially by denying its existence. Tony didn’t want to admit it to himself and didn’t tell his wife. Marion also initially denied the need for medication but eventually confronted her illness. Responses varied regarding whether to tell others about their asthma, with some people we talked to being upfront and others not mentioning their asthma.

Michael feels comfortable to let other people know his limits

Patsy does the best she can to be part of things, not letting on that she is struggling physically.

People with severe asthma also talked about learning to adapt. Knowing and acknowledging their limits was an important coping tool for many people in the study. Being honest with themselves about what level of activity was possible at a given time, was helpful for some people, although others found they pushed the boundaries more as time went on as they were more used to having severe asthma.

Lauren has found a level of activity which works for her.

Karen knows what’s usual for her and that helps her to monitor the situation.

When dealing with acute shortness of breath people with severe asthma stressed the importance of not panicking. Strategies used to calm themselves included concentrating on breathing, listening to your body and being aware of the signs, exercising willpower and talking to themselves.

Helen finds it scary but still tries to keep calm.

Ian has learnt from experience how best to deal with an asthma attack.

Michael has found that calming himself down similar to meditation is helpful when he has an asthma attack.

Patsy uses mind over matter.

Another way that people with severe asthma dealt with being breathless was to alter the positioning of their body to improve their ability to breathe. This might be standing or sitting rather than lying to assist with sleeping or doing a regular exercise.

Hassan finds posture is important.

Marg uses the Bowen manoeuvre.

Alternative ways of doing things were often mentioned by people we spoke to as a way to cope with severe asthma. For example, some people with severe asthma had to accept that they might need to drive instead of walking even short distances at times.

Wayne stops and rests if needed.

Marion has learned not to put time pressure on herself.

People with severe asthma liked to plan ahead including medication supply. They had reliever inhalers available everywhere such as at work, in the car and at home. To stay on top of things, establishing and maintaining a routine was also seen as important. Organising appointments for certain times of the day helped Shannon. Others were alert to their surroundings. See also Triggers.

Monique explains how panic sets in if she doesn’t have her reliever puffer, Ventolin, handy.

Written asthma action plans help people to recognise worsening asthma and decide what to do in response. They are one of the most effective asthma management tools available. People we interviewed found having a written action plan gave them peace of mind.

Mick explains the importance of having an action plan he can rely on.

Exercise was mentioned by many participants as being helpful in managing their asthma, as well as keeping up social interactions with others. It is important not to overdo the exercise and stress the body though.

Hassan prefers to get out and be active.

Michael describes how exercise can be both good for asthma but also potentially harmful if overdone.