Shortness of Breath Anxiety

Shortness of Breath Anxiety
Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behaviour, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.

In this article, titled “Shortness of breath anxiety,” we will discuss the connection between shortness of breath and anxiety, what shortness of breath feels like, other conditions that can cause it, anxiety symptoms, and its treatment. You will also find some techniques for shortness of breath anxiety, as well as some tips that may be helpful.

Shortness of Breath Anxiety

Shortness of Breath Anxiety; Connection

Shortness of breath (dyspnea) is connected to anxiety, as it is one of anxiety symptoms. Feeling short of breath can cause worry; however, you should know that shortness of breath will pass when anxiety is cured.

Some people with anxiety may experience Panic attacks, which can worsen their anxiety and deepen breathing difficulties. Anxiety plus a panic attack can make people worry about the inability to breathe correctly, which can make the breath more rapid.

What does Shortness of Breath Anxiety Feel Like?

Shortness of breath feels like:

  • Air hunger,
  • Choke,
  • Tightening in the chest,
  • Breathlessness,
  • Nausea,
  • Confusion,
  • A lump in the throat.
Shortness of Breath Anxiety

Anxiety Symptoms

To be sure if what you have is anxiety, and to find ways for overcoming anxiety, you need to know the symptoms of anxiety, which are physiological and psychological. 

Physiological symptoms: 

  • Increased heart rate,
  • Rapid breathing,
  • Trouble sleeping,
  • Headache,
  • Nausea,
  • Diarrhea,
  • Fatigue,
  • Sweating,
  • Dry mouth,
  • Muscle tension.

Psychological symptoms: 

  • Fear,
  • Worry,
  • Concentration problems, 
  • Difficulty speaking,
  • Restlessness,
  • Irritability,
  • Nervousness,
  • Panic attacks,
  • Edginess,
  • Uneasiness,
  • Apprehension.

In DSM-5, shortness of breath is not mentioned as a criterion to diagnose anxiety, but it can be seen in people with anxiety. However, shortness of breath can be experienced by people with panic attack as well.

To understand your condition better, you should answer the following questions for yourself:

  1. What triggers my anxiety? 
  2. What I think and feel being anxious?
  3. What do I do when I am anxious?
  4. What helps me (better) to cope with anxiety?

You can also write down your thoughts and feelings when you feel anxious.

Anxiety Treatment

Anxiety can be treated by psychotherapy, medications, or their combination.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy can help treat anxiety. Through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a professional psychologist can help you to recognize negative and distorted thoughts and replace them with more positive ones. CBT helps you realize that your anxiety is based on false alarms of fear, and allows you to cope with certain conditions, that cause anxiety, instead of avoiding them. 

Some other talk therapies, such as psychodynamic therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, or art therapy, can be useful too.

Medications

Some medications are used in overcoming anxiety, reducing their symptoms. SSRIs (Prozac, Zoloft, or Paxil) can be useful. To treat anxiety are also used SNRIs and tricyclic antidepressants. Tricyclic antidepressants, though, are used more rare, because they can have significant side effects.

Benzodiazepines are commonly used to treat anxiety. So, often mental health professionals prescribe alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), diazepam (Valium), or another benzodiazepine medication.

Antidepressants are used to reduce anxiety symptoms. Nevertheless, they can take some weeks to influence. From SSRIs sertraline (Zoloft) or fluoxetine (Prozac), are used as first-line antidepressants, because they are considered safer and are better tolerated by individuals.

However, before taking a medication, you should talk to your doctor to find out what can be better and more efficient for you.

Techniques for Shortness of Breath Anxiety

Various techniques can help you to cope with shortness of breath anxiety. Sure, they cannot be considered as treatment but can be useful if they accompany anxiety treatment.

If you experience anxiety and shortness of breath worries you much, the following techniques may be useful to cope with it:

Breathing techniques:

  • Count while breathing – you can say in mind one, two while breathing in, and three, four while breathing out.
  • Breath through your nose – this may sound simple, but is useful, because breathing through your nose, slows breathing down and prevents shortness of breath (or hyperventilation),
  • Breath through your abdomen – put your hand on your chest, and the other on your stomach, then while breathing, try not to move your hand that is on chest, and move only the one on your stomach. Breathing into your abdomen makes your midriff stretched, which relaxes the muscles that tighten, making you feel like it is difficult to breathe.
Shortness of Breath Anxiety

Muscle relaxation techniques:

As you know, or as you felt, anxiety makes the body tensed, which causes shortness of breath as well. Practicing some muscle relaxation techniques can help you to reduce anxiety symptoms (in particular, shortness of breath). Below is an example of such a technique that you can find useful:

  1. Go to a room where nobody will distract you, and where it is peaceful,
  2. Sit or lie in a position that makes you feel comfortable and relaxed,
  3. Loosen your clothes if they are tight,
  4. Try to take a deep, slow breath through your nose,
  5. Tighten all your body muscles (starting from feet) as hard as you can, and leave them tightened counting till ten,
  6. Relax, enjoying the feeling of the tension release,
  7. Spread the muscles of your feet, hold counting till ten, and relax,
  8. Repeat steps from five till seven one more time, tightening the body muscles, and relaxing (while practicing this technique, putting some pleasant and relaxing music may be good too).

Some Other Tips for Shortness of Breath Anxiety

Here are some tips that can be helpful overcoming anxiety, including shortness of breath:

  • Practice physical exercises,
  • Stop smoking,
  • Avoid using caffeine, as it can increase anxiety,
  • Avoid using alcohol – many people drink alcohol to get rid of anxiety, but it can have the opposite negative effect, increasing your anxiety,
  • Shock yourself by putting your face in a bowl full of ice water. This technique is recommended by specialists to calm your mind from worrying thoughts,
  • Try to figure out the problems that cause anxiety, and work on solving them; your family members, relatives, or friends can help you in that if needed.

Other Conditions Causing Shortness of Breath

Besides anxiety, some other conditions can cause shortness of breath, such as:

  • Low blood pressure or hypotension,
  • Asthma,
  • Pneumonia,
  • Heart attack,
  • Obstruction of the upper airway,
  • Allergic reactions,
  • and others.

Recommended book and sources

  1. Shortness of Breath Anxiety – Breathe
  2. Shortness of Breath Anxiety – Breathe2Relax
  3. Deep Relaxation and Breathing Exercises for Good Health and Beating Stress
  4. Deep Breathing Exercises For Anxiety: Discover How To Reduce Anxiety With These 6 Simple Breathing Exercises 
  5. Shortness of Breath Anxiety Video – Dr. A Montour: Anxiety and shortness of breath
  6. HFNE “Anxiety after Breakup”
  7. HFNE “Bimuno Anxiety”

FAQs about the topic “Shortness of Breath Anxiety.”

Is shortness of breath a symptom of anxiety?

Shortness of breath is a symptom of anxiety. It can be caused by other conditions too, though, such as asthma, heart attack or heart failure, low blood pressure, pneumonia, and some others.

What helps anxiety shortness of breath?

Anxiety shortness of breath can be treated by medication, psychotherapy, or their combination, as well as by breathing and muscle relaxing techniques. It is recommended to quit smoking, avoid using alcohol and caffeine and regularly practice physical exercises.

Can anxiety cause long term shortness of breath?

Anxiety can cause long term shortness of breath. Although shortness of breath can make you worry about other more serious health problems, you should know that it can be a symptom of anxiety. However, you should talk to a mental health specialist to find out the causes and to start a treatment.

Can anxiety kill you?

Anxiety cannot kill you, although its symptoms (panic attacks, shortness of breath, and others) can make you feel like a heart attack or another condition. Nevertheless, if you experience anxiety symptoms regularly, you should meet a mental health professional (a doctor or a psychologist).

What is shortness of breath feel like?

Shortness of breath feels like difficulty breathing, choke, air hunger, a lump in the throat, nausea, confusion, and tightening in the chest.

How do you get rid of dyspnea?

You can try to get rid of dyspnea (shortness of breath) by practicing a breathing technique. The following techniques can be helpful:

  • Count while breathing – you can say in mind one, two while breathing in, and three, four while breathing out.
  • Breath through your nose – this may sound simple, but is useful, because breathing through your nose, slows breathing down and prevents shortness of breath (or hyperventilation),
  • Breath through your abdomen – put your hand on your chest, and the other on your stomach, then while breathing, try not to move your hand that is on chest, and move only the one on your stomach. Breathing into your abdomen makes your midriff stretched, which relaxes the muscles that tighten, making you feel like it is difficult to breathe.

Conclusion

Summarizing the article “Shortness of breath anxiety,” we can say that shortness of breath is one of anxiety symptoms (can be caused by other conditions too, though), which can feel like air hunger, breathlessness, tightening in the chest, a lump in the throat, choke, and nausea. Shortness of breath anxiety is commonly treated by the combination of medication and psychotherapy, practicing breathing and muscle relaxation techniques, as well as following some other tips.

Please feel free to comment on the content or ask any questions in the comments section below.

References

  1. Anxiety and breathing difficulties (Shortness of Breath Anxiety)
  2. How Anxiety Can Cause Shortness of Breath and What You Can Do

Shortness of Breath Anxiety