How to tell if shortness of breath is from anxiety
Shortness of breath (dyspnea) or other breathing difficulties can be frightening. However, it is a common symptom of anxiety.
Many people are concerned that a symptom affecting their breathing is the result of a physical problem. In fact, your mental health has an impact on your physical health in a variety of ways.
While anxiety can cause shortness of breath and other physical symptoms, it's also important to recognise that shortness of breath for other reasons can cause anxiety.
Here's what you should know about this symptom and when you should see a doctor.
Anxiety symptoms and shortness of breath
Your body's natural fear response is anxiety. This is referred to as the fight-or-flight response. Your body reacts in physical and mental ways to prepare you to fight or flee a threatening situation. (Source)
One of these responses is shortness of breath. You may experience shortness of breath, chest tightness, suffocation, or a desire for fresh air.
Anxiety and respiratory symptoms, including shortness of breath, have been linked in studies.
Other symptoms that may occur as a result of this response and anxiety include (Source):
- Quicker breathing (hyperventilation).
- Tightness in the chest.
- A lack of breath or a sense of suffocation.
- Having the sensation of a lump in your throat.
- Tension in the muscles.
- Palpitations in the heart (feels like a stronger, faster heartbeat).
- Feeling dizzy, faint, or unsteady.
- Nauseousness or stomach discomfort.
- Restlessness, irritability, or a sense of being on edge.
How to Get Rid of Anxiety-Induced Shortness of Breath
However, by concentrating on your breathing, you can control it and get the right amount of oxygen into your lungs.
recommends practising diaphragmatic breathing. This is a breathing technique that makes use of your diaphragm, which is the most efficient breathing muscle we have.(Source)
When you have shortness of breath, you usually breathe through your mouth or chest. However, diaphragmatic breathing can:
- Reduce the rate of your breathing.
- Reduce your need for oxygen
- Breathing requires less effort and energy.
✔ Put one hand on your upper chest and the other on your lower rib cage.
✔ This will allow you to feel your diaphragm more clearly as you breathe.
✔ Slowly inhale through your nose, allowing your stomach to move out against your hand. Tighten your abdominal muscles. Allow them to fall inward as you exhale through your nose or mouth (whichever is more comfortable for you).
When you breathe in and out through your nose, you are less likely to experience shortness of breath or hyperventilation. It's also normal to feel tired or as if you're exerting a lot of effort when you first start this breathing practise. This breathing technique will become automatic and effortless with more practise.Techniques for grounding : One grounding technique (progressive muscle relaxation) involves clenching and gradually releasing muscles. Concentrate solely on these sensations.
Distractions that are mindful : To help you calm down, find something to distract your mind from panicking. To keep your attention on something else, try describing what's around you. What is the colour of your couch? What is the texture like?
Speak to yourself : Remind yourself of this now that you know these symptoms are part of your body's automatic response. When you're feeling anxious or panicked, tell yourself, "I can't breathe because my body is trying to get more oxygen" or "I've been evaluated and my heart is fine." Talking to yourself rationally can help you get out of your anxiety.
Self-care:You can practise self-care in a variety of ways. Tea with herbs (but avoid caffeinated tea, as it can increase anxiety). Candles with a pleasant aroma should be lit. Make a list of your emotions. Play some relaxing music.
Surprise yourself : Therapists recommend shocking your system by dipping your face in a bowl of ice water to help pull you out of a thought spiral.
Consider consulting with a mental health professional for long-term solutions. They can assess your needs and teach you coping strategies that will work for you.
Daily breathing exercises, other forms of mindfulness, and relaxing yoga may also be beneficial.
How to Keep Your Breath When You're Anxious
You don't prepare for an earthquake while it's happening; you prepare ahead of time. Anxiety is similar.
Keeping a thought log is one of the most effective preventive measures. n a thought log, you record the automatic thoughts that occurred during your most recent bout of anxiety or panic. It can help you identify triggers and reflect on your anxiety in a more relaxed state.
You can also write down what sensations you're having as you're having them. This can assist your doctor in understanding what is going on.
- The occasion
- The specific cause (the situation or physical symptom, such as shortness of breath).
- The unplanned thought (what you think will happen due to this physical symptom or situation).
- How strongly you hold this belief (1 to 100 percent).
If you have shortness of breath, your first thought may be that you have a serious health problem. You may have believed it almost entirely at the time.
You can also incorporate mindfulness into your daily activities to become more aware of your body and what makes you anxious. Try practising mindful eating or taking a mindful walk around the block.
Finally, consider collaborating with a mental health professional to develop additional strategies. They can assist you in working through negative thought processes that arise when you are anxious, especially if the anxiety is severe or causing you significant distress.
Other factors that contribute to shortness of breath
Shortness of breath and other anxiety symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions. So, it's a good idea to keep an eye on your symptoms and see your doctor to rule out any other conditions.
Getting a physical to ensure you don't have any other problems can also help to relieve your stress. Many people believe they are having a heart attack during a panic attack, for example. This fear only adds to their panic.
Shortness of breath can also be caused by:
- Changes in exercise altitude
- A sedentary lifestyle necessitates tight clothing.
Other conditions that can cause shortness of breath include Reliable(Source):
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Pneumonia caused by heart failure or a heart attack
- Upper airway obstruction due to low blood pressure
Various types of psychotherapy may be suggested.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy are two (Source) for reducing anxiety and symptoms such as shortness of breath (ACT).
Certain medications, such as those listed below, may also be beneficial :
Antidepressants.To treat anxiety and depression, these medications alter the levels of certain neurotransmitters. They are frequently used as a long-term solution because you may not notice any benefits for several weeks.
Benzodiazepines. Drugs in this class include Xanax and Valium, which act as sedatives to calm you down when you're feeling anxious. They are, however, only recommended for short-term use because they can cause side effects such as drowsiness. (Source)
Beta-blockers.Though typically used to treat high blood pressure, beta-blockers such as propranolol can also alleviate the physical symptoms of anxiety in the short term.(Source).
When should you see your doctor?
Consult your doctor if you have persistent shortness of breath that is not related to anxiety. Seek emergency medical attention if you have any of the following symptoms of a heart attack:
Tightness or pain in the chest, neck, jaw, back, or arms fatigue lightheadedness, nausea, or vomiting discomfort in your arm or shoulder sweating excessively for no apparent reason.
Commonly Asked Questions
When is shortness of breath a serious problem?
If your shortness of breath is accompanied by other symptoms such as pain or discomfort, tightness in your chest, lightheadedness, nausea, or vomiting, you should seek medical attention right away.
You should also see a doctor if you have had shortness of breath for more than a month or if you have other symptoms such as persistent coughing or swollen ankles, as this could be a sign of a more serious condition.
Is my shortness of breath caused by an anxiety attack or by the Coronavirus?
Anxiety-related shortness of breath typically peaks within a few minutesTrusted Source and may be accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, heart palpitations, and sweating.(Source 1, Source 2).
Shortness of breath caused by COVID-19, on the other hand, lasts longer and may be associated with other symptoms such as fever, dry cough, chills, muscle pain, and a sore throat. (Source).
Why do I have nighttime shortness of breath and anxiety?
Many people have panic or anxiety attacks at night (Source), which can cause shortness of breath and can happen without any obvious triggers. There is no known cause, as there is for daytime anxiety attacks, but a variety of factors, including stress and genetics, may play a role.
It is critical to remember that anxiety attacks are not fatal. You will not suffocate, stop breathing, or die as a result of an anxiety attack. Anxiety or panic attacks will not cause a heart attack.
If you are concerned about your physical health, seek medical attention. When you've been cleared of any physical causes for your shortness of breath, keep that clean bill of health as a reminder for when you're feeling anxious again.
Consult a mental health professional for additional support and coping strategies.