How to help shortness of breath from anxiety

Anxiety: Breathing Problems and Exercises

Anxiety: Breathing Problems and Exercises

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD — By Diana Wells — Updated on March 28, 2020

How anxiety is affected by the breath

Most everyone will experience mild anxiety at some point in their lives. Some people’s anxiety reaction becomes much more extreme and can happen during normal, daily activities. This is called an anxiety disorder. There are many kinds of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and panic attacks.

Anxiety can affect your breathing. On the other hand, your breathing can affect feelings of anxiety. Deep or rhythmic breathing is a good way to decrease symptoms of anxiety. Breathing can also help focus your thoughts.

Anxiety-induced breathing problems

The symptoms of anxiety are slightly different for each person, but they almost always include rapid breathing and an increase heart rate. Other anxiety symptoms include restlessness, inability to concentrate, and sleep problems.

These symptoms may range in severity and you may only have a few of them. The most common symptom is that your breath gets more rapid as you are exposed to a stressful or anxiety-inducing situation.

Deep breathing can be done pretty much anywhere and anytime you feel anxious, without any special tools or time frame. Sometimes just taking a few deep breaths before entering a stressful situation or when you find yourself in the middle of one, can lower stress and anxiety levels. However, if you want to have a more structured time of relaxation and anxiety relief, here are a few exercises you can try.

Relaxing deep breathing

  • Sit comfortably.
  • Breathe in through your nose for 6 seconds (try to fill your abdomen first, then up through your upper chest).
  • Hold your breath for 2-3 seconds.
  • Release your breath slowly through pursed lips.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • Sit comfortably.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Take one deep breath and release it while saying the word “relax” either silently or aloud.
  • Breathe naturally 10 times while counting each breath (try to relax your face muscles as well as shoulders and other areas).
  • After counting down from 10 to 1, open your eyes.

Counting breaths

  • Sit comfortably.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Take one deep breath and release it while saying the word “relax” either silently or aloud.
  • Breathe naturally 10 times while counting each breath (try to relax your face muscles as well as shoulders and other areas).
  • After counting down from 10 to 1, open your eyes.

Meditation breathing

This is the simplest of the breathing exercises and can be done in just about any stressful or anxiety-producing situation:

  • Breathe out slowly.
  • Ignore when you breathe in.
  • Concentrate only on breathing out.
  • Breathe out as much air as possible before breathing in again.
  • Focus on relaxing the muscles in your face, shoulders, and anywhere else you feel tense while you breathe.

These are just a few examples of breathing exercises that can be done most anywhere you find yourself feeling anxious. Other forms of breathing to relieve anxiety and stress are found in practicing yoga, meditation, and mindfulness.

There are two types of breathing, based on what part of your lungs you are using. When you are exercising or feeling stress, you will usually breathe with the upper section of your lungs or chest. This is called chest breathing. This type of breathing is usually shorter and faster, and makes your body tense.

Deep breathing comes from your diaphragm, or in the area of your stomach. It will cause your body to relax and can reduce anxiety. Taking long, slow breaths from the abdominal area will also help:

  • increase the amount of oxygen and release a sense of calm throughout your brain and body
  • lower your blood pressure
  • reduce your heart rate
  • relax your muscles
  • focus your mind on your body and away from whatever is making you anxious

There is ongoing research into the effectiveness of deep breathing for anxiety and stress. Some research shows that deep breathing — and even sighing — brings relief to people with both low and high sensitivity to anxiety.

While breathing has been shown to alleviate some anxiety, it is important to realize that panic attacks, anxiety disorders, and depression are mental health conditions. These should always be assessed and treated by a medical professional. If your anxiety feels out of control, affects your daily life, or simple relaxation techniques do not help, it is time to contact your doctor.

There are treatments, counseling, as well as medications that can ease anxiety that goes beyond occasional anxiety. You can talk to your doctor about incorporating some deep breathing exercises with any other treatments you are given. Breathing can help you with a panic attack and enable you to get to your medication or therapist.

Anxiety can affect people on different levels. It can also affect people during different phases of their lives. Since everyone has some type of anxiety from time to time, understanding the effect that breathing has on anxiety can help you to utilize these exercises and relieve some (or all) of your anxiety. If your anxiety is due to a mental illness, then breathing exercises can be used alongside other treatments or medications for further relief.

Last medically reviewed on March 14, 2017

How we reviewed this article:

Healthline has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

  • Anxiety. (2015, December)
  • Anxiety disorders. (2016, March)
  • Anxiety disorders. (2015, August)
  • Decrease stress by using your breath. (2016, December)
  • Jacobs, G. D. (2001). Clinical applications of the relaxation response and mind-body interventions. Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine, 7(1),93-101
  • Relaxation techniques for health. (2016, May)
  • Scotland-Coogan, D. & Davis, E. (2016, October). Relaxation techniques for trauma. Journal of Evidence Information Social Work, 13(5), 434-441.Retrieved from
  • Take a deep breath. (n.d.)
  • Vlemincx, E., Van Diest, I., & Van den Bergh, O. (2016, October). A sigh of relief or a sigh to relieve: The psychological and physiological relief effect of deep breaths. Physiology Behavior, 165, 125-135. Retrieved from

Our experts continually monitor the health and wellness space, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.

Current Version

Mar 28, 2020

Written By

Diana Wells

Edited By

Frank Crooks

Mar 14, 2017

Medically Reviewed By

Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD

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Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD — By Diana Wells — Updated on March 28, 2020

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How to Relieve Shortness of Breath from Anxiety

Anxiety itself can already be troubling, but when that anxiety affects the way you feel about your own health, it becomes a tremendous burden. It's not uncommon for many people suffering from anxiety and anxiety attacks to worry about their physical health, and often one of the main contributing symptoms is a shortness of breath.

Shortness of breath is a common symptom of an anxiety disorder. In this article, we'll take a look at the causes of shortness of breath, how to cope with it, and how to overcome it.

When it Doubt, See a Doctor

Before we begin, those that struggle with shortness of breath should always consider first seeing a doctor. Anxiety is a frequent cause of this condition, but there are several health issues, unrelated to anxiety, that can cause shortness of breath. These include common conditions like asthma and allergies, as well as other conditions that may affect your lungs and heart

Still, even when shortness of breath is originally caused by a health condition, it can still lead to anxiety. The experience of breathlessness can trigger worrying thoughts about your health, such as “I’m going to pass out”. This can lead to developing greater anxiety which, in turn, can actually cause symptoms of hyperventilation and trouble breathing to increase, causing further discomfort. .

Causes of Shortness of Breath

Anxiety related breathing issues tend to be a result of hyperventilation. Hyperventilation is also known as "overbreathing," and it occurs when your body is receiving too much oxygen and is expelling too much carbon dioxide.

Even though the body needs oxygen, healthy carbon dioxide levels are still important. When you are taking in too much air you are also letting out too much carbon dioxide. This can cause your body to feel like you're not breathing enough. Disrupting the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body by overbreathing can lead to symptoms such as dizziness, tingling and headache. Anxiety hyperventilation is often caused by one of two issues:

  • Breathing too fast, such as during an anxiety attack when your body is in fight/flight mode. Breathing too fast means that the air you inhale isn’t in your body long enough to be converted to CO2, while breathing out fast expels whatever CO2 was still stored.
  • Thinking about your breathing, which may cause you to take in more air then you need.

The latter is common in people with health anxieties and panic attacks. These individuals are often concerned about their health so they focus on their breathing and try to consciously control it. Ultimately, they try to take in too much air in order to feel their chest expand for a full breath. The body often doesn't actually need that much air, and shortness of breath occurs.

Shortness of Breath and Other Physical Sensations

Unfortunately for many people, shortness of breath is often accompanied by other unpleasant bodily experiences. Hyperventilation and anxiety, can lead to other issues like chest pain, dizziness, and lightheadedness. These are a side-effects of increased carbon dioxide in the blood.

These symptoms usually reduce as normal breathing resumes. Yet the harmless but uncomfortable sensations are often misinterpreted as signs of serious illness. This can become a further trigger for anxiety, leading to even worse breathing difficulty.

If you have anxiety, it's also possible to have shortness of breath even when you're not consciously feeling anxious. That's because over time anxiety can start to alter the way you breathe. This can become a habit, and cause hyperventilation without any triggers. Part of overcoming shortness of breath may require re-learning how to breathe correctly.

Coping With Shortness of Breath From Anxiety

Those that are experiencing severe shortness of breath may still want to see a doctor. Shortness of breath is a common effect of anxiety, but only a medical professional can give you an accurate diagnosis. For those whose shortness of breath is caused by anxiety, you'll need to take two approaches:

  • Short term coping.
  • Long term coping.

In the short term, you'll need to recognise that you may be hyperventilating and try to consciously avoid the temptation to over-breathe. During an panic attack, you may simply need to wait it out - they generally peak after 10 minutes and subside soon after. Traditionally breathing into a paper bag was suggested, but there are other more successful ways that you can control your breathing. You can try the following:

  • Slow, Stomach Breaths Slowing your breathing so that you're actually breathing a bit less quickly can be a big help. Often when we’re anxious we take short, shallow breaths into the chest. Try instead to breathe in and out slowly into the lower part of the body. Feel the muscle under your lungs, the diaphragm, moving downwards and your belly expanding. Don't worry about yawning or filling up your chest with air. Instead, breathe into the abdomen, hold for a few seconds, and breathe out slowly through your mouth. This should help you maintain better CO2 levels.
  • Distractions Recall that for many people, shortness of breath is caused by focusing your attention on your own breathing. Distractions can put breathing back in your body's control. Activities such as turning on the TV or calling someone you know can help, or playing a mind game such as trying to name a country for every letter of the alphabet - anything to distract your mind so that your body takes control of your breathing again.
  • Go Walk Similar to distractions, walking (and jogging, although jogging can be hard for people going through an anxiety attack) gets your heart rate up a bit, and challenges your body to breathe normally. Often the mind and body go back on autopilot and you get natural breaths again. It may also provide you with the distractions you need, especially if there is enough around you visually.

Shortness of breath, when related to anxiety, will go away once your breathing returns to a normal rate. If you can control overcompensating by trying to get too much air, you should be able to get your breathing to feel natural again.

Long Term Treatment for Shortness of Breath

In the long term, the key is to get both your breathing and your anxiety under control.

Breathing strategies tend to focus on "retraining" the mind to breathe correctly.If you have been experiencing anxiety you may have become very used to breathing too quickly. Many experts recommend deep breathing exercises. They're a form of relaxation exercise that involves sitting still and learning to breathe slowly through your stomach instead of your chest.

These exercises can be lead by an instructor, or you could find a script on a relaxation CD or video. Research suggests that practicing breath training will help your body learn to breathe better, and ultimately prevent hyperventilation. Yoga and meditation also have deep breathing components, and these can help you retrain the way you breathe.

Still, the most important treatment is going to be learning to control your anxiety. Only by managing your anxiety and limiting its symptoms will anxiety-related shortness of breath go away, and will it become possible to reduce any stress you experience during shortness of breath episodes.

Anxiety is a very treatable condition. You can learn to control this anxiety by:

  • Educating Yourself - The best thing you can do is educate yourself on anxiety. The more you learn as much about anxiety as possible. With anxiety, knowledge is power. You can try exploring this site, for example, where we have countless articles about anxiety including our anxiety guide.
  • Self-Help Techniques - There are several self-help techniques that can assist you with anxiety reduction. For example, deep breathing, journaling, and progressive muscle relaxation can all help reduce anxiety.
  • See a Mental Health Professional - There are those that try to avoid psychologists and psychiatrists because they think it either won’t work or are too uncomfortable. But therapy and some medications can be quite valuable. If you find yourself really struggling, don’t count out the value of clinical intervention.

Anxiety is very treatable. With the right techniques, you can overcome your anxiety, manage your symptoms, and experience a better quality of life.

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Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, tracheostomy care - Vera Hospice Charitable Foundation

Shortness of breath is an unpleasant feeling of shortness of breath, which is often accompanied by anxiety. It should be borne in mind that shortness of breath is a subjective phenomenon, therefore it (like pain) should be assessed on the basis of the patient's description of his state of health.

Some patients with dyspnea on exertion have respiratory panic attacks. During these attacks, patients feel as if they are dying. At the same time, the fear caused by shortness of breath, as well as a lack of awareness of this condition, cause an increase in anxiety, which in turn increases the frequency of breathing and, as a result, increases shortness of breath.

There are many causes of shortness of breath: it can be provoked directly by the tumor itself, the consequences of cancer, complications from treatment, concomitant diseases, as well as a combination of the above causes. Shortness of breath can be caused both by damage to the lungs, lymph nodes, and by damage to the upper respiratory tract.

If shortness of breath occurs, explain to the patient his condition and encourage him to reduce the feeling of fear and anxiety, and also try to change his lifestyle: make a daily routine so that rest always follows after exertion, if possible, help the patient around the house, with shopping products, etc.

Treatment will depend on the cause of the shortness of breath. The issue of taking medications should be decided on an individual basis by consultation with a doctor, since the number of drugs that relieve or reduce shortness of breath is quite wide (from bronchodilators to morphine).

If the causes of this condition are reversible, then the presence of loved ones, soothing conversation, cool dry air, relaxation therapy, massage, and treatments such as acupuncture (acupressure) can help.

Oxygen can also be beneficial if inhaled a few minutes before and a few minutes after exercise.

When caring for a patient with dyspnea, remain calm and confident, do not leave the patient alone. He needs to create the most comfortable environment - open windows or put a fan nearby, as well as provide an opportunity to easily sound an alarm. The patient should be encouraged to do breathing exercises and teach relaxation techniques.

Proper oral care is also very important, especially if the patient breathes through the mouth. Since in this case the patient feels severe dryness in the mouth, periodically wipe the patient's mouth with a damp swab and apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly to the lips. If the patient can swallow, give him little to drink or suck on ice.
For tumors in the upper respiratory tract that interfere with breathing, a tracheostomy is performed (opening the trachea and inserting a special tube into its lumen to restore breathing). Tracheostomy care consists of frequent dressing changes and thorough rinsing of the skin around the tracheostomy opening with chlorhexidine. Dressings should be changed every day or more often, several times a day, as they become soiled.

If a lot of mucus and sputum accumulate in the bronchi and trachea, then a thin sterile portable suction catheter is inserted through the tracheostomy and suction (sanitation) is performed. In these cases, it is also useful to create an outflow of sputum by lowering the head end of the patient's bed.

If a tube is changed, the tracheostomy opening is treated with an antiseptic (chlorhexidine). The tube itself can be lubricated with levomekol during replacement (for better glide and for antibacterial action).

Bandage on the tracheostomy opening (padding between the tube and the skin) is done as follows. One or three gauze napkins measuring 5x10 cm are folded together and a V-shaped cross-section is made in the middle from its wide side. The depth of the cut is approximately half a napkin. When applying a bandage, the tube is passed through the incision, and the bandage is placed under the flange ("wings"). A little betadine can be put on the bandage so that there is no entry gate for infection.

Debilitated tracheostomy patients who are unable to remove and clean the internal tracheotomy tube require careful observation and care. With signs of difficulty in breathing and anxiety of the patient, it is necessary to bring a piece of cotton wool, a strip of gauze or a hand to the opening of the tracheotomy tube and determine the strength of the air stream during inhalation and exhalation. If it is loose, this means that the inner tube is clogged with mucus or dried crusts, and it must be removed. The jet of air should immediately increase sharply.
The tube must be cleaned, rinsed well, dried, lubricated with levomekol and inserted. If, after removing the inner tube, the air stream does not increase and the patient continues to experience difficulty in breathing, then the obstruction is below the tracheotomy tube or it has fallen out of the trachea and is located near it. In this case, seek help from a hospice specialist.

Shortness of breath, shortness of breath, dyspnea - causes, examination and treatment in Astrakhan| Symptoms

Anxiety disorder - hyperventilation
Signs: Situation-specific shortness of breath is often accompanied by agitation and tingling or numbness in the fingers and/or around the mouth. Normal results of examinations of the heart and lungs.

Signs: Wheezing wheezing that starts spontaneously or after exposure to specific stimuli (pollen or other allergen, upper respiratory tract infection, cold air, or exercise). Usually a history of asthma.

Foreign body
Signs: Cough or high-pitched wheezing that comes on suddenly in people (usually infants or young children) without any symptoms of an upper respiratory infection or other illness.

Myocardial infarction or acute myocardial ischemia
Signs: Pressure deep in the chest, which may or may not be accompanied by radiating pain to the arm or jaw, especially in people with risk factors for coronary heart disease.

Heart failure
Signs: Often swelling of the legs. Shortness of breath that worsens when lying on your back (orthopnea) or that appears 1 to 2 hours after falling asleep (paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea). Noises in the lungs, auscultated through a stethoscope, indicating the possible presence of fluid in the lungs. Foamy, pink sputum, sometimes streaked with blood.

Pneumothorax (collapse of the lung)
Signs: Sharp chest pain and rapid breathing that started suddenly. May develop after injury or occur spontaneously, especially in tall, thin people and people with COPD.

Pulmonary embolism (sudden blockage of an artery in the lungs)
Signs: Sudden onset of chest pain, which usually gets worse with inspiration. Rapid heartbeat and rapid breathing. Risk factors for pulmonary embolism include cancer, weakness (as a result of being bedridden due to illness), blood clots in the legs, pregnancy, use of birth control pills, recent surgery or hospitalization, and a family history of such a disease.

Angina pectoris or ischemic heart disease
Signs: Pressure deep in the chest, which may or may not be accompanied by radiating pain to the arm or jaw, often caused by exercise. Often in people with risk factors for coronary heart disease.

Exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Signs: Often cough, which may or may not be accompanied by sputum production. Wheezing and breath through pursed lips. In people who already have COPD.

Signs: Increased body temperature, feeling sick and coughing. Sudden onset of sharp pain in the chest when taking a deep breath. Some unusual breathing sounds heard through a stethoscope.

Signs: Shortness of breath on exertion, progressing to shortness of breath at rest. Normal lung exam results and normal blood oxygen levels. Interstitial lung disease. Abnormal sounds in the lungs, the so-called moist rales, which are heard through a stethoscope.

Obstructive pulmonary disease
Signs: A history of heavy smoking, an emphysematous chest, and difficulty moving air in and out of the lungs. Usually in people who already have COPD. Deterioration of physical condition. Shortness of breath only on exertion. In older people with a sedentary lifestyle.

Pleural effusion (fluid in chest cavity)
Signs: Sometimes a history of cancer, heart failure, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, or acute pneumonia.

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