Shortness of Breath and Anxiety

Dyspnea or simply shortness of breath refers to a situation when you experience an intense tightening in the chest or a feeling of suffocation. Extreme temperatures, strenuous exercise, high altitude and massive obesity can also lead to shortness of breath. In some cases, shortness of breath, anxiety or sweating may well be signs of an underlying medical problem and it is common to feel suffocated when anxious. Talk to your doctor when you have anxiety or cannot pinpoint the exact cause of your problem.

How Is Shortness of Breath and Anxiety Related?

It is not easy to deal with shortness of breath. Anxiety can make things even worse. In fact, anxiety and dyspnea are closely related:

  • Anxiety can make you lose your breath: Your body goes into fight or flight mode when you feel anxiety. This releases adrenaline that makes your heart to pump faster. When this happens, you experience arrhythmias and skipped beats, and sweats heavily. To overcome these changes, you start breathing from your chest to take in more oxygen. This makes you feel short of breath, as breathing from your chest when you are at rest is hard.
  • Shortness of breath also may bring anxiety to you. Just think how scary that hard-to-breathe feeling or that suffocating feeling is very.

How to Deal With Anxiety-Induced Shortness of Breath

You should never ignore the feeling of shortness of breath. Anxiety, as a most concerned cause, should be resolved to put your mind at rest. Here is what you can do to overcome anxiety-induced shortness of breath.

1. Breathe Slowly

You need to learn how breathe slowly under stressful situations to prevent hyperventilating. Keep calm and breathe in through your nose. Take 4 seconds to inhale, hold your breath for 4 seconds and then release it for 4 seconds. Repeating this process for a couple of minutes will help calm your nerves.

2. Breathe Deeply

Shallow breaths can make things even worse. When you are anxious, your breathing usually quickens. This stops your brain from getting enough oxygen and makes it difficult for your brain to think logically and clearly. Take 5-7 seconds to inhale slowly through your nose. Hold your breath for 3 seconds and then exhale through your pursed lips for 7-9 seconds. Repeat this 10-20 times.

3. Breathe from Your Diaphragm

Sit in a chair with a hand on your chest and the other right below your rib cage. Keep your knees bent and shoulders relaxed. Breathe in slowly through your nose and ensure that your stomach expands when you inhale. Then keep your upper chest still and slowly breathe out. Ensure that the hand on your stomach moves up and down as you breathe in and breathe out but the hand on your chest stays still. This is called diaphragmatic breathing that helps prevent episodes of shortness of breath, anxiety, etc.

3. Exercise Regularly

Exercise helps relieve anxiety because the adrenaline built in the body due to anxiety can then be utilized for aerobic activity. This relieves stress and anxiety. Cycling, swimming, running and fast walking are all good choices. These exercises do not just burn stress hormones but also trigger the release of endorphins that improve your mood and make breathing easier.

4. Release Your Anxious Feeling

Trying to fight anxiety can make things worse; instead, you need to find ways to vent it. You will feel better when you embrace anxiety and take steps to release that anxious energy. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Spend a few minutes alone in a safe place to release your anxious feeling.
  • Burst into tears, scream into your pillow, punch a pillow, laugh hysterically, or jump around to feel better.
  • Ensure you are in a safe place and there are no fragile items that might break when you decide to let things go.

Here is a video to help you learn more about shortness of breath, anxiety and ways to relax yourself:

Are There Other Causes of Shortness of Breath?

While anxiety is definitely one of the reasons why you experience shortness of breath, other underlying medical conditions can also cause breathing difficulties. You may experience short-term breathlessness due to the following causes:

  • Asthma: It can be triggered by allergy or a cold and make you feel breathless.
  • Pneumonia: This severe chest infection may be the reason why you feel breathless. You will also have a fever and cough that produces greenish phlegm.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): This long-term lung condition can also cause breathing difficulties because the airways become narrowed.
  • Pulmonary embolism causes blood clots in the lung, which first develop in the leg.
  • Obesity may make you feel breathless.
  • You may develop heart rhythm problems and your heart doesn't pump properly. This reduces oxygen levels in the body and makes you breathe rapidly, making you feel breathless.
  • Anemia is a condition characterized by inadequate levels of hemoglobin in the blood. It will make you feel tired and breathless. Heavy menstrual periods can sometimes lead to anemia. 
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