Is hayfever stressing you out or is stress exacerbating your hayfever?


Marianna Kilburn
Qualified Life Coach
@MariannaKilburn
Ask Marianna


14 July 2014

Stress and hayfever

Itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing fits…..yes it’s the hayfever time of year and the pollen count is extra high! So why would I be mentioning this on the Stress and Low mood blog?

Well, if you didn’t  already know, the two can be linked, as allergy symptoms tend to worsen when we are under stress.

If you have read any of my previous blogs, you will know that when we are under stress, our bodies produce all sorts of hormones and chemicals in reaction to the added pressure. One of these is histamine, an immune mediator, or in simple terms, a chemical released by the body in reaction to what the body perceives as a foreign invader.

It is one of the key chemicals involved in the allergic response. So if stress is high, our histamine levels increase. The higher the histamine levels in our body, the more likely we are to have an allergic response.

In a survey reported by the NHS, 7 out of 10 allergy sufferers described their allergic symptoms as unbearable and debilitating when under stress yet described the symptoms becoming milder as their stress levels dropped.

So if you are stressed and experiencing allergic reactions, especially hayfever, at this time of year, don’t despair. You may find the following tips useful:

  • Think about the source of your stress and what action needs to be taken either to reduce or remove it. If you are doing too much, try completing a time log and reassess your priorities (and look out for my next blog which will cover this in more detail). If you are saying ‘yes’ to too many demands or people, practice saying no to others and yes to your own wellbeing. Rest and respite time are so important and a more balanced  lifestyle could well bring you allergy relief too.
  • Sleep is an important metaboliser of stress as well as being restorative to our immune system and other important bodily processes. Do what you can to get regular quality sleep on a daily basis. If you are struggling, take a look at our sleep blog.
  • A regular exercise programme not only helps to reduce accumulating stress hormones in the body but it also produces a chemical called epinephrine, which acts as a natural decongestant, helping you breathe better.
  • Try including meditation, deep breathing exercises or yoga in your daily routine. If you have not tried this before, start slowly, even a few minutes a day can be beneficial. These techniques can be very calming to our central nervous system and thus reduce the circulating stress chemicals.
  • When we are stressed or low in mood, we tend to neglect the very habits that may help us, especially when it comes to food. Keep an eye on the foods you eat regularly, bearing in mind that some can exacerbate both stress and allergy symptoms. For example, too many sugary products can interfere with blood sugar levels which in turn triggers adrenaline and then also boosts histamine levels. Histamine production can also be increased by eating too many refined and processed foods as well as those lacking in freshness or which have been highly fermented e.g. certain cheeses and alcoholic drinks (wine, beer etc). You can counter these effects by sticking to fresh, whole foods and herbs, such as nettles and those high in Vitamin C, a natural antihistamine.

For both men and women

For many people, working life takes up the majority of their time. As a result couples can become estranged, spending more time apart than together, growing in different directions. Suddenly the family leave home, the jobs come to an end and the couple are thrown together only to find their common ground is not so common after all.

Due to increased external pressures in this day and age, people tend to react and deal with what is in front of them rather than take time to plan ahead for life changing events.

We can be creatures of habit and change can be challenging, even inducing a type of grief cycle (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), which can affect those involved in the change and their immediate relationships.

Financial concerns may trouble couples subject to how well they have planned for their financial future, based on a pension, rather than the normal monthly in-come.

Health concerns may increase and become apparent at retirement age (menopause, BPH ETC see below). It is not uncommon for people to work hard, depending too heavily on their adrenal glands and then be hit with an array of symptoms at the point when they finally slow down.

For women

Women are working longer and harder than previous generations. This means mounting demands at work and at home and an increase in stress related symptoms.

The effects of the menopause should not be underestimated either. As hormone levels decrease with age, low mood, anxiety, interrupted sleep, hot flushes and other health issues can become apparent.

Given that the average age for the menopause is 52 and can last from anything between a year and 10 years, it could well coincide with life changing times of children leaving the nest, elderly parents needing care and husbands retiring.

Women are more independent than in years gone by and able to pursue more hobbies away from home. Furthermore, they tend to have specific ways and means of running the household. A husband who is suddenly at home all the time can lead to feelings of restriction and frustration during the adjustment period.

Women may also feel the pressure of needing to fill a gap as their previously occupied husband is suddenly not occupied at all and looking for ways to fill the void.

For men

With many years of a daily structure suddenly removed, the empty space can be overwhelming leading to low self esteem and a lack in sense of purpose.

Men may see their wives continuing to live an independent life and feel sidelined as their own daily life changes dramatically.

Men have a greater tendency than women to go into their ‘cave’ often needing less social contact than their partners. When it comes to retirement this may mean limited social circles at a time they would most benefit.

With so many hours spent at work or thinking about work, hobbies may not have been a priority leaving men unsure as to how to spend their newly acquired time.

Health concerns may also challenge men of this age with 50% of men over 50 suffering from Benign Prostate Hyperplasia causing symptoms that may interfere with daily and nocturnal life!

A message of hope

Do not lose hope, if you are already suffering any of the above or suspect this could happen to you in the not too distant future, rest assured there are various measures that can be put into place to ease this life passage. Furthermore, forearmed is forewarned and people also do enjoy happy and healthy retirements.

Part 2 of this post will look at helpful techniques for adjusting to a happy retirement.

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