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How to Deal With Shortness of Breath from Anxiety

How to tell if shortness of breath is from anxiety
Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology


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Everyone gets anxious at some point in life. However, some people experience intense fidgety feelings that even affect their daily functioning. Such a symptom is typical for an anxiety disorder.

Although anxiety symptoms vary from person to person, many people with this medical disorder experience shortness of breath. Patients often attribute breathing problems to physical causes rather than mental issues like anxiety.

So, does anxiety cause shortness of breath? Is it dangerous? And what can be done to manage it? In this post, let’s understand how you tell if shortness of breath is from anxiety and what techniques you can use to relieve such feelings.

Note: Regardless of the cause, if your shortness of breath gets worse or becomes severe, seek emergent medical care.

Get your anxiety symptoms checked by a mental health expert at MEDvidi.

Can Anxiety Cause Shortness of Breath?

Chronic stress can affect mental and physical well-being in many ways and vice versa. For example, experiencing prolonged stress may lead to anxiety, affecting your breathing. On the other hand, breathing problems such as dyspnea can create feelings of anxiety too.

Being caused by not physical issues but anxiety, shortness of breath might be harmless. Still, it is essential to see a doctor when the symptoms occur.

What is the Connection Between Anxiety and Breathing?

When a person encounters danger or other terrifying situations, the body enters a fight-or-flight mode for self-defense. Typically, the reaction involves physical and mental changes that trigger you to fight or run away. The body’s natural response to danger is beneficial unless it’s out of proportion to the perceived threat.

Changes in breathing patterns and heart palpitations are some physical responses that appear during the fight-or-flight reaction. The heart rate usually increases to ensure more blood goes to the muscles in readiness to run or fight. Likewise, the depth and rate of breathing also increase to supply more oxygen to the tissues. Such changes often result in breathlessness, and you may feel like you’re suffocating, hungry for air, or can’t breathe. Sometimes, even chest tightness occurs.

Shortness of breath is a common symptom of anxiety disorders, but only a doctor can make online diagnosis for anxiety after a comprehensive assessment.

The Specifics of Shortness of Breath from Anxiety

While breathlessness and other symptoms occur to protect you during the fight-or-flight response, their occurrence in anxiety is out of proportion to the threat. For instance, you might go to the grocery store, but suddenly a feeling of being wound up and stomach upset emerge. The body responds as though you’re in danger when you aren’t.

So, what does shortness of breath from anxiety feel like? Besides the feeling of shortness of breath, you might experience the following:

  • Choking sensation
  • Rapid, deep breathing
  • Feeling dizzy or faint (light-headed)
  • Pounding (racing) heartbeat
  • Stomach upset and diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Feeling on edge or restlessness
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Fear of losing control
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Problem speaking
  • Agitation
  • Chest pain

These responses are essential in helping you save yourself in the face of a threat. However, shortness of breath and other reactions from anxiety occur during normal daily activities such as making presentations at work or speaking at public events.

Do you have any disturbing symptoms? MEDvidi doctors are here to help and develop a personalized treatment plan.

Can anxiety cause shortness of breath

How to Treat Shortness of Breath

To get rid of anxiety-induced dyspnea, focus on your breathing. Concentrate on the breathing rhythm to control the amount of oxygen getting into the lungs.

Diaphragmatic breathing is one relaxation technique that can help you control your breathing. Instead of breathing from the chest or mouth as it usually occurs, this technique uses the diaphragm to regulate the air volume you inhale and exhale.

To practice diaphragmatic breathing, you should:

  • Lie back on a flat surface, support your head, or sit comfortably in a chair.
  • Feel your diaphragm by putting one hand below the rib cage while the other rests on the upper chest.
  • Slowly and deeply inhale through the nose and feel the stomach moving out against the hand below the ribcage.
  • Tighten your stomach muscles and let them fall in as you slowly breathe through the nose or mouth.
  • Continue taking deep breaths as you hold and then slowly exhale, feeling your stomach move in and out.

Repeat the cycle for about 5 to 10 minutes whenever you experience shortness of breath from anxiety. You can perfect diaphragmatic breathing by practicing it daily. Although it might seem difficult initially, frequent practice makes it more natural and effortless.

This relaxation technique relieves shortness of breath from anxiety by:

  • slowing the breathing rate,
  • reducing the body’s oxygen demand,
  • minimizing the effort and energy needed for breathing.

Note: Breathing through the nose alleviates anxiety-related breathlessness or hyperventilation more efficiently than mouth breathing.

Other techniques for relieving anxiety and the associated breathlessness include:

  • Grounding techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, where you clench muscles and slowly release them while focusing on the sensations.
  • Mindful distractions in which you shift your attention from the anxiety trigger and focus on other things. For instance, you can describe your pet as a distraction.
  • Exercise (like walking) and other self-care practices can also help you escape anxiety symptoms.

Besides these remedies for shortness of breath from anxiety, consider seeing a mental health professional for long-term coping mechanisms.


As was mentioned above, anxiety and shortness of breath have a bidirectional relationship. Anxiety can affect your breathing and vice versa. If you feel breathless while experiencing other psychological symptoms like agitation and fear of losing control, then anxiety is the likely cause of your symptoms. You can control these responses by practicing diaphragmatic breathing and other relaxation techniques. But if the symptoms are severe or happen frequently, consider contacting MEDvidi online clinic to get help.

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Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology


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