Are Allergies Triggering Your Anxiety?
When allergy season is in full swing, anxiety can peak as well, and a growing body of research suggests seasonal allergies can make existing anxiety even worse. At the moment your body perceives an allergen, your immune system releases histamines, leukotrines and prostaglandins - chemicals that can cause itchy eyes, a runny nose, cough, and congestion. When your body responds to a perceived threat, it goes into fight or flight mode, releasing histamines that flood the central nervous system and cause your brain to be extremely alert, awake, and aware of danger. Allergies don’t cause anxiety, and anxiety doesn’t cause allergies – but our bodies cannot distinguish one histamine reaction from the other, which means a head full of pollen and a brain full of worry can feed off each other, flooding chemicals in the brain that can exacerbate symptoms and increase agitation, insomnia, and a mind that keeps working overtime.
Allergies and Mental Health
Studies have shown that people who have allergies tend to be at greater risk for anxiety, and people with hayfever (especially women) are also more likely to suffer from depression. Both are common diagnoses; more than 100 million people in the US have allergies, and more than 40 million American adults have an anxiety disorder (which includes general anxiety, social anxiety, panic attack disorder, and phobias). Because both conditions can cause an inflammatory response, researchers believe allergy-induced inflammation may cause a biochemical change that increases anxiety.
Autumn can be a triggering month for both conditions. The transition from summer to school, changing routines, financial worries, and excessive heat can be stressful. Ragweed, the most common trigger for seasonal allergies in the US, peaks from August to October. Both allergies and anxiety can make us feel irritable, lethargic and depressed during the day, but restless and wracked with insomnia at night, so it can be challenging to know which condition is causing us to feel so bad.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to calm your body and brain during peak season:
- Turn down the thermostat to your comfort level between 60 and 72 degrees. Your body’s natural circadian rhythm helps to drop your core temperature and release melatonin at night. Heat can cause higher cortisol levels and palpitations - which may feel similar to a panic attack. Cooler rooms promote melatonin release, leading to more restful sleep.
- Invest in an indoor High Efficiency Particle Arresting (HEPA) air filter, as recommended by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Not only does a true HEPA filter remove dander, dust, mold, mites, and other allergens from your home, the white noise it produces can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep through the night.
- Listen to your doctor. Managing allergy symptoms with over-the-counter remedies, such as corticosteroid nasal sprays (like Flonase, Nasacort, or Astepro) or antihistamines (like Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra, or Benadryl) can help mitigate the body’s congestion, inflammation, and hyper-reactive responses. But it’s easy to forget to take daily medications once your stuffy, sneezy symptoms are under control. Severe allergy or asthma sufferers may need prescription anti-leukotrine modifiers (like Singulair) or allergy shots. As always, be honest with your providers about the medicines you’re taking and about your other conditions, including blood pressure, headaches, and mental health.
Lifeologie Counseling provides a creative, collaborative approach to wellness – including our focus on holistic health, which means we function as part of your entire healthcare team. If needed, we can consult with your primary care doctors or specialists to make sure your mental health is managed as well as your physical symptoms. Meet our therapists, read more about stress and anxiety and find the right fit to get your anxiety under control, in every season.
Lifeologie Counseling was founded in 2000 with one goal in mind — to bring a fresh, innovative approach to the everyday problems of life. Creative solutions to stuck problems®. With our unique multi-specialty, collaborative approach, Lifeologie Counseling helps individuals and families heal their wounds and break out of old, unhealthy patterns.