Stress is one of the most common hereditary angioedema (HAE) attack triggers. For people with HAE, any source of stress or worry can result in episodes of painful swelling.

Unfortunately, stressful situations are nearly impossible to avoid. If you’re living with HAE, you’ll have to be proactive in managing stress.

Stress comes in many forms

Stress is anything that causes the body to react and adjust in response.

A stressor could be something physical, like a big change in the weather, or an injury from slipping and falling. Stress could also be brought about by worry — for instance, if you’re nervous about an upcoming exam.

It could be related to mental exertion from learning something new, like how to drive a car. Or stress could be feeling regretful about something unfavorable that happened in the past, like getting turned down for your dream job.

Preventing physical stress

A physical stressor puts a toll on the body, causing the release of stress hormones. Illness or infection, injury, surgery, sunburn, and freezing weather are some examples.

There are steps you can take to help avoid types of physical stress:

  • Make sure you’re up to date on your vaccines, including having an annual flu shot before flu season begins.
  • Avoid extreme sun exposure and wear sunscreen when you go outside.
  • Consider preventative HAE treatment before undergoing surgery.
  • Avoid piercings, especially tongue piercings.
  • Take breaks often when performing repetitive activities, like mowing the lawn.
  • Wear warm layers when going outside in cold weather.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Wear bug spray when going to places where insect bites are likely.
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and lean meats to keep your immune system functioning at its best.

Tips for managing emotional stress

To manage stress, first figure out where it’s coming from. Once you know that, you can make a conscious effort to avoid those situations or not let them affect you negatively.

This is called mindfulness. Here are some ways to practice mindfulness:

  • yoga, particularly classes that focus on breathing
  • deep breathing exercises
  • meditation
  • staying positive
  • practicing staying present (living in the moment)

Your lifestyle can also have an impact on how you handle stressful situations. Poor lifestyle choices can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Try to incorporate the following stress management tips into your day-to-day life:

  • Stick to a daily routine.
  • Stay organized and make a to-do list.
  • Learn how to say no if too much is on your plate.
  • Eat healthfully and avoid too much sugar and processed foods.
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule. Make sure you’re getting at least eight hours of sleep each night.
  • Make sure you’re drinking enough water.
  • Exercise daily, even if it’s just going for a long walk.
  • Spend time in nature. Hiking is a great way to get exercise and also get outside.

Last but not least, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Having someone to talk to can help you sort through your feelings and put things in perspective.

Consider joining an online support network or local support group if friends and family aren’t available to talk.

How developing a treatment plan can help

In addition to various day-to-day stressors, people living with HAE also have to worry about having an attack.

This can lead to an unfortunate catch 22 — when the fear of having an attack can be the very thing that triggers the attack.

For this reason, it’s important to commit to a detailed treatment plan to help put your mind at ease. You can’t avoid all attacks, but with a plan in place, you’ll know how to get the treatment you need right away.

Not everyone’s treatment plan will be the same. Here are some examples of what a treatment plan might entail:

  • having at least two doses of on-demand treatment ready at all times
  • understanding how to self-administer the medication
  • being able to recognize what triggers your attacks
  • knowing the location of the nearest emergency room
  • keeping a medical ID or papers with your medical and insurance information on hand
  • memorizing your doctor’s contact info

When stress is unavoidable

You’re going to feel overwhelmed by stress from time to time. You might even experience different types of stress at once.

If a highly stressful situation arises, like a death in the family or losing your job, consider taking a preventative (prophylactic) treatment. Talk to your doctor about your options.

The bottom line

Stress can be emotional, mental, or physical. Everyone experiences and manages stress differently.

You may have techniques for dealing with stress, but some things in life, like an HAE attack, might be beyond your control. The key to minimizing stress is to be proactive. Learn how to manage stress and don’t let it define you.

If stress and anxiety become overwhelming, or you feel it affecting your quality of life, don’t be ashamed to talk to your doctor or see a counselor. Find out if medication can help you.