Shortness of breath from anxiety can be scary and overwhelming. From asthma to anxiety – there could be various causes behind breathing difficulties. But when anxiety is the culprit, the one experiencing it is often unaware of the deep-rooted reason behind his or her shortness of breath or how to cope with it. Shortness of breath brought on by anxiety, sometimes known as “air hunger,” can be unpleasant and painful.

Although it may look like a physical problem, its primary cause is anxiety-related activation of the body’s inherent fight-or-flight response. One’s capacity to control this symptom and increase general wellbeing can be greatly improved by identifying shortness of breath from anxiety and by implementing appropriate coping techniques like breathwork, meditation etc. But before we get to the ways to deal with it, let’s first understand how to identify it.

A girl experiencing an anxiety attack

How to tell if shortness of breath is from anxiety?

It can be difficult to distinguish between shortness of breath brought on by anxiety and shortness of breath brought on by a physical health issue because both might present with similar sensations. However, you can tell if your shortness of breath is more likely to be caused by anxiety by looking for specific patterns and indicators. A medical practitioner should always be consulted if you have severe or prolonged shortness of breath in order to receive an accurate diagnosis and the best course of therapy. Here are some signs to indicate if your shortness of breath is from anxiety:

Triggered by Stressful Situations 

Stress, anxiety, or panic attacks are frequently associated with shortness of breath from anxiety. If you observe that your breathing problems happen during or right after anxious events, this may indicate a connection. Stage fright or the anticipation of a presentation or interview can often result in panic attacks resulting in shortness of breath.

Sudden Onset

Shortness of breath from anxiety can appear unexpectedly and intensify rather quickly, especially under stressful circumstances. Breathing disorders that are caused by physical health concerns may start off more gradually.

Occurs in Non-Physical Situations

Anxiety may be to blame if you have shortness of breath in circumstances that don’t generally call for physical effort, such while you’re at rest or taking part in non-strenuous activities.

Anxiety attack, panic attack

Accompanied by Other Anxiety Symptoms

Shortness of breath from anxiety is frequently accompanied by other anxiety symptoms such a racing heart, perspiration, shaking, tightness in the chest, a sense of impending doom, and racing thoughts.

Responsive to Relaxation Techniques

It’s a good indication that anxiety may be a factor in your shortness of breath if it lessens or gets better when you practise relaxation techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness.

History of Anxiety or Panic Disorders

Your shortness of breath may have anxiety-related causes if you have a history of anxiety disorders, panic attacks, or generalised anxiety.

A man experiencing panic attack

No Underlying Medical Issues

It’s critical to rule out any physical causes of breathlessness, particularly if you already have a medical problem. However, anxiety becomes a more logical explanation if medical examinations regularly reveal no underlying heart or pulmonary problems.

Breathlessness Without Other Physical Symptoms

Chest pain, coughing, wheezing, and fever are common secondary symptoms of physical health issues that cause shortness of breath. Anxiety may be a factor if you are feeling breathlessness without any additional symptoms.

The Anxiety-Shortness of Breath Connection

Shortness of breath from anxiety does not occur due to lack of oxygen or any physical restriction in the airways. It’s only the body’s response to stress and anxiety. When the brain perceives a situation as a threat, it goes into the “fight-or-flight” mode. Numerous physiological changes are brought on by this response, such as a faster heartbeat, shallow breathing, and tense muscles. Particularly, the accelerated breathing can cause hyperventilation, where the body releases more carbon dioxide than it takes in. This can upset the bloodstream’s normal gas balance, leading to symptoms like lightheadedness, tingling, and—more importantly—a sense of not breathing enough.


Coping Strategies

Anxiety-related shortness of breath can be treated using a combination of physiological and psychological strategies that focus on the underlying reasons. Here are some sensible tactics to take into account:

  1. Deep Breathing Exercises: Controlled, deep breathing exercises can help reduce the fast breathing that comes with worry. Try taking a deep breath in via your nose for four counts, holding it for another four counts, and then gently expelling through your mouth for six counts. This method lessens hyperventilation and aids in breathing pattern regulation.
  2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Breathing difficulties might be made worse by muscle tension. In order to reduce physical tension and encourage relaxation, distinct muscle groups are first tensed, then relaxed.
  3. Mindfulness and Meditation: You may stay in the present moment and stop your mind from wandering to worrisome thoughts by using mindfulness techniques and meditation. When your thoughts begin to stray, gently refocus your attention on your breath or a soothing image.
  4. Grounding Techniques: You can become more anchored and experience less worry by using your senses in the present. Think of five things you can see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste.
  5. Positive Self-Talk: Challenge negative thoughts and emotions that add to your anxiety. Change them with attainable, uplifting affirmations. Remind yourself that the shortness of breath is due to anxiety and that there is no immediate risk.
  6. Seek Professional Help: Consider getting help from a mental health expert if your shortness of breath from anxiety is seriously affecting your everyday life. Your therapist can assist you in identifying triggers, creating coping mechanisms, and acquiring techniques for anxiety management.
  7. Physical Activity and Lifestyle Changes: The incidence of anxiety-related symptoms can be decreased by engaging in regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep.

Although shortness of breath from anxiety can be troubling, it’s crucial to understand that it results from the body’s normal reaction to stress. People can use efficient coping mechanisms to manage and treat this condition by understanding the link between anxiety and breathing problems. The objective is to recover control over breathing patterns and foster a sense of calm, whether through deep breathing exercises, mindfulness practises, or seeking professional help. Just keep in mind that it is possible to manage shortness of breath brought on by worry and live a more serene, balanced life with persistence and practise.

Also read: Here Is How To Stop Panic Attack in Public