Sydney is a contributing health writer and editor who enjoys shedding light on health topics, making information available to anyone who wants it, and ending stigmas or lack of access to care and treatment.
Leann Poston, M.D.
Leann Poston, M.D. earned her medical degree from the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. She completed an MBA from Raj Soin College of Business, focusing on healthcare. She is a full-time medical communication writer and educator.
February 4, 2021
Shortness of breath and hyperventilation are key symptoms of anxiety. It’s thought to be caused by signals from the brain, triggered by stress hormones, telling your lungs to provide your muscles with more oxygen.
Evolutionary, this process was likely used to give humans a leg up when chasing after prey – or running from predators.
Now, shortness of breath caused by anxiety can be an extremely uncomfortable and stressful symptom of anxiety. Read on to learn more about shortness of breath and anxiety, including how to get treatment and effective breathing routines proven to help you catch your breath.
One of the most prevalent ways that anxiety will show itself is through shortness of breath. Many people experiencing an anxiety attack will feel as if they can’t get a full breath of air, which makes them even more anxious. This can cause a vicious cycle that’s hard to get out of.
The medical term for shortness of breath is “dyspnea,” and it can feel terrifying to those facing it. Because anxiety is a natural response from our body being in fight or flight mode, our body will react by giving us symptoms or side effects like dyspnea.
In the moment, you may feel like you’ll never be able to breathe normally again. Anxiety tends to lie to us and blow things out of proportion. By focusing on not being able to get a full breath, you can end up making yourself feel worse and thus experiencing even more anxiety symptoms.
For those who struggle with anxiety, it can manifest itself in a number of different ways. This can happen mentally, physically, or emotionally. It’s common for the average person to experience anxiousness, but once it interrupts your daily life, it can turn into a disorder.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues Americans are facing today. “Some studies show that traumatic and stressful events – such as abuse, the death of a loved one, divorce or job loss – can bring on an anxiety disorder in vulnerable people,” according to Lehigh Valley of the Health Network.
Now you understand the common stressors that cause anxiety and know that anxiety can cause shortness of breath, but what is your body doing when you feel like you’re struggling to breathe?
When we’re anxious, our body releases hormones in our body. When our fight or flight switch is in the “on” position, the human body reacts, whether we want it to or not. Your brain is telling your body to get more oxygen to your muscles, which can result in shortness of breath.
When this happens, you may notice an increase in your heart rate, and your face can even become flushed. Your body is reacting as if you just ran for your life, even though you might be sitting in your bed.
There is a sense of comfort knowing that your body is reacting how it’s supposed to in the event that you were actually in a threatening situation. While one moment you might feel like you’re gasping for air, there are other symptoms you may experience as well.
This reaction is only a problem when you’re experiencing it in times that are disproportionate to the situation that caused it.
If shortness of breath from anxiety is a common occurrence for you, and you want to figure out how to manage it, you can make an appointment with a top online doctor at our sister company, Plushcare. PlushCare is a top telehealth startup connecting hundreds of thousands of patients with premium medical care from online doctors. Their doctors will be able to diagnose, treat, and write prescriptions for your shortness of breath and anxiety. You can book your appointment here.
Speaking of symptoms, if you’re experiencing shortness of breath, you might notice other things going on with your body. Some of the other common symptoms that come with dyspnea are the following:
If your anxiety often causes shortness of breath, you’re not alone. Since this is one of the most common ways our bodies show us that we’re anxious, there are a number of methods available to help get your breathing back to normal.
You can also use these helpful tips to prevent shortness of breath before it starts.
Focusing on your breathing, when incorporated into your everyday life, comes with several health benefits.
There are ways to help deal with shortness of breath from anxiety. Try following these steps to get control of your breath.
Believe it or not, it’s possible to prevent anxiety symptoms before they start. Here we’ll go through some clinically proven ways to prevent shortness of breath from anxiety.
If you’re working with a therapist, work on learning your triggers so that you’re aware of when the physical symptoms of anxiety might start to show.
For example, if you have PTSD from an experience with a tornado, a windy day might trigger your anxiety, leading to shortness of breath. Remind yourself that wind is natural, look at the weather radar, and go inside if you need to. Managing triggers is a great way to prevent anxiety episodes.
Many health professionals suggest tracking your thoughts while you’re anxious. You can get a journal and simply write down your anxious thoughts as they come to mind. It’s a good idea to bring this journal to therapy (if you’re in it) to give your therapist a good idea of what you’re thinking when you’re in fight or flight mode.
Meditation can also help prevent breathing issues when you have anxiety.
Shortness of breath can make us feel lightheaded, dizzy, and even disoriented. Try grounding yourself by naming five things around you that you can hear, see, smell, taste, and touch.
You could also go through the alphabet and name an animal for each letter. This helps your mind to focus on something other than your anxiety and breathing.
Shortness of breath could also be caused by other things like working out, tight clothing, a change in altitude, other health conditions, and more. It’s a good idea to consult with a doctor to make sure that there isn’t an underlying health condition that could be causing your breathing issues.
If you feel like anxiety is taking over your life, online or in-person therapy can help. Combining that with some of the techniques listed above can help you manage your anxiousness and give you tips on how to live a more fulfilling life.
EverydayDr is proud to be partnered with PlushCare, a premier telehealth service that provides access to top licensed doctors. You can make an appointment from the comfort of your own home, and get treated for shortness of breath and anxiety conveniently and affordably.
PlushCare also offers online therapy and can connect you with a licensed mental health professional for weekly video chat therapy sessions to treat the root cause of your anxiety. Book a therapy appointment here.
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