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How To Help Shortness Of Breath From Anxiety

How To Ease Shortness Of Breath

Shortness of breath: Is it stress, anxiety or a symptom of COVID-19?

You may find some relief with techniques that improve your general health and your breathing:

Quit smoking, and avoid secondhand smoke. If you vape or smoke, quit as soon as possible. Your doctor can help you find ways to make quitting easier. Smoking not only leads to shortness of breath, but increases your risk of lung disease and may shorten your life. Stay away from other people’s smoke as well. Also avoid inhaling harsh chemicals as well as things like dust and pollen that can trigger allergies.

Exercise. Over time, working out strengthens your muscles and your lungs. When your muscles get stronger, they need less oxygen and produce less carbon dioxide. This improves your airflow. Youâll eventually be able to handle more activity without feeling out of breath. Exercise can also help you lose weight. That’s important because obesity contributes to breathlessness. Check with your doctor to see what activity level is right for you.

Relaxation techniques. Listen to a relaxation app on your phone. Or try progressive muscle relaxation, in which you tighten, then soften, each group of muscles in your body. These techniques help reduce stress, encourage you to breathe slowly and deeply, and distract you from your breathing troubles. They may also help with anxiety, which can cause shortness of breath.

Try different breathing exercises to find out which one helps you feel better.

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Anxiety Breathing Symptoms And How To Stop Them

While everyone feels anxious from time to time, one in five people lives under the influence of a potentially debilitating anxiety disorder. Typically, anxiety disorders are the result of a chemical imbalance within the brain, but they can also be triggered by personal trauma or the result of genetic predisposition.

While symptoms of anxiety vary from person to person, all types of anxiety can potentially affect your breathing patterns and increase your heart rate. You may have experienced episodes that made it feel nearly impossible to catch your breath. Its frightening and very real. Anxiety can affect your ability to breathe and the way you breathe can also influence your anxiety levels. You can take control of the way you breathe to minimize anxiety breathing symptoms.

Use Pursed Lip Breathing

If you have COPD, you may already be familiar with pursed lip breathing. Breathing slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth is a basic technique used to slow your breathing down and avoid hyperventilating.

There are many other breathing techniques advocated for relaxation, but these should be used with caution because they make you focus on your breathing and may increase anxiety.

For COPD patients, once you use positive thoughts and take care of yourself physically by resting and using pursed lip breathing, the best thing you can do is distract yourself, or focus on anything but your breathing.

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The Reality Of Living With Anxiety In The Age Of The New Coronavirus

For people who have health anxiety, knowledge isnt necessarily power. Even though I rationally know anxiety is probably causing my symptoms, I still obsess over them.

often scan themselves and go back to the symptom that they had been tracking, says McKee. Theres research finding that this intensifies the actual sensation. Examining it makes it feel worse.

Yet it feels impossible to not examine it. Even though the World Health Organization has been extremely clear that you cant know if you have the new coronavirus by doing a home test of your breathingand that attempting this can be dangerousI still find myself trying it out, just to see if I can. If Im feeling really nervous, I breathe into the peak flow meter I ordered at the start of all of this to make sure I get a normal reading.

Hes right. I do take my oxygen measurement and temperature over and over again, as if theres going to be a major change from the last time. Im not the only one. Denise H., 43, who has had health anxiety for years, has also been constantly checking her temperature, blood pressure, oxygen levels, and breaths per minute, she says.

So what should you do instead?

Why Does Anxiety Make It Hard To Breathe

How To Stop Shortness Of Breath Anxiety

The brain is wired to react to fearful situations with a fight or flight response. The heart rate increases to pump blood to the organs faster, which readies the muscles for action. It also causes a person to breathe more quickly to provide more oxygen to the muscles. The result can be shortness of breath.

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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 isnt 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.

How To Stop Shortness Of Breath From Anxiety

Try 4-7-8 Breathing Sit or lie comfortably with your back straight. Exhale completely through your mouth. Close your mouth lightly and inhale through your nose quietly to the count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Exhale audibly through your mouth for a count of 8.

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How To Tell If Your Shortness Of Breath Is From Anxiety Or Coronavirus

Heres a peek into my nights lately: Its past midnight, and Im in bed having yet another panic attack, gasping for air, wondering if this is it. Is tonight the night that my worst nightmare comes true? Does my shortness of breath mean something is physically wrong with melike having the new coronavirusor am I yet again dealing with anxiety? Will the ambulance get here in time? Would there be space at the hospital for me if I needed to go? What if theyre out of ventilators? It feels like my throat is closing up my lungs arent working. Im going to die, and my funeral is going to have to be a Zoom meeting.

These kinds of thoughts arent anything new for me. Ive had anxiety since I was 12 and have experienced more nights like this than I can count.

When I first heard that the new coronavirus was spreading in China, I took notice but wasnt too worried about my own personal safety. But as days went by and I couldnt go on Twitter without seeing headlines about death, and as the outbreak officially became a pandemic, my health anxiety came flying out of the gates. It got even worse when every article I read about the new coronavirus mentioned a symptom I know all too well: shortness of breath. This is the main way my anxiety manifests physically. One day, I texted my sister, How the hell am I supposed to know if my shortness of breath is from anxiety or the coronavirus? If youre wondering the same thing, welcome to the extremely not-fun club.

Shortness Of Breath: Anxiety Or Something Else

Can Anxiety Cause Shortness Of Breath?

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Has your anxiety ever gotten so intense that you feel short of breath? Its actually a fairly common symptom experienced by people with anxiety disorders.

If you’re one of those people, know that you arent alone. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, more than 40 million American adults are affected by an anxiety disorder.

No doubt, it can be scary when you cant take a deep breath or get enough air, which can then make your anxiety worse. But hopefully knowing that its not an uncommon symptom helps ease your nerves.

Keep reading to learn more about shortness of breath and anxiety.

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How Can I Ease Or Relieve Shortness Of Breath

You may prevent or relieve shortness of breath on your own. Helpful steps may include:

  • Avoiding inhaling chemicals that can irritate your lungs, like paint fumes and car exhaust.
  • Practicing breathing and/or relaxation techniques to improve your breathing function.
  • Stopping smoking, if you smoke. Dont start smoking if you dont now smoke.
  • Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Avoiding activity in times when temperatures are very hot or very cold, or when the humidity is high. If you have lung disease, observe air pollution alerts issued on radio and TV.
  • Making sure your equipment is in good working order when you use oxygen.

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:

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.

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Other Physical Sensations With Shortness Of Breath

Unluckily for several folks, the shortness of breath is often accompanied by some physical sensations, such as chest pain, pain with inspiration, anxiousness, lightheadedness, coughing, neck pain, and dizziness. These are supposed to be quite similar to the moment when something goes wrong with your health, so it sort of causes your shortness of breath worse.

How Breathing Exercises Can Help Calm Your Nervous System

Shortness Of Breath (Dyspnea)

Breathing is closely linked to the nervous system. Breathing exercises, especially those that emphasize extended, controlled exhalation activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which causes equal and opposite changes to the stress response, says Dr. Kennedy. Deep, controlled breathing with extended exhalation stimulates the vagus nerve, causing a fall in heart rate and blood pressure and, when practiced regularly, feelings of calm and relaxation.

Signs of a relaxed nervous system include:

  • Regular and relaxed heart rate
  • Slower breathing
  • Lower blood pressure

Breath regulation means bringing awareness to how youre breathingthe speed, the rate, the depth, through the nose or mouth, and being equally aware of the exhale, says Sattar. Breath awareness pings the body and says, Lets slow down and find a balance between what were feeling, thinking and actually experiencing.

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Tips To Manage Anxiety And Stress

  • Maintain a healthy diet. Avoid binge eating or stress eating, which is common during periods of distress and uncertainty.
  • Stay active and exercise regularly. Walk outdoors on a nice day, or dust off some of that old fitness equipment in the basement.
  • Participate in hobbies and interests. Puzzles are one of the most popular items on the internet lately, which is an activity that encourages concentration and can be done alone or with others.

If you are experiencing stress or anxiety and need to determine if it is COVID-19 related, contact your primary care physician, many of whom are now offering virtual visits via phone or computer. Urgent care centers and telemedicine resources such as Convenient Care NOW are also helpful resources. In case of emergency, contact a crisis hotline or call 911.

Sleeping In A Relaxed Position

People with sleep apnea experience shortness of breath while they sleep. This can lead to waking up frequently, which can diminish the quality and duration of your sleep.

Try lying on your side with a pillow between your legs and your head elevated by pillows, keeping your back straight. Or lie on your back with your head elevated, and your knees bent, with a pillow under your knees.

Both of these positions help your body and airways relax, making breathing easier. Have your doctor assess you for sleep apnea and use a CPAP machine if recommended.

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When Is Shortness Of Breath Serious

If shortness of breath is accompanied by other symptoms like pain or discomfort, tightness in the chest, lightheadedness, nausea, or vomiting, its important to seek medical attention immediately.

You should also talk with a doctor if you have experienced shortness of breath for over 1 month or if other symptoms like persistent coughing or swollen ankles are present, as it could be a sign of a more serious condition.

How To Tell If Shortness Of Breath Is From Anxiety

Belly Breathing

Physical symptoms of anxiety are not uncommon. Though, not everyone experiences all of the same physical signs .

One study published in the journal, Respiratory Medicine, suggested a close tie between anxiety and respiratory symptomsincluding difficulty breathing.

Shortness of breath can present itself in a variety of ways, such as wheezing, inability to take a deep breath or feeling a tightness in your chest.

Another study published in the journal, Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, that focused on people who have panic attacks , found that breathlessness may be linked to the bodys fight or flight response. There may also be a genetic or hormonal component to it.

However, shortness of breath could be attributed to other medical conditions, such as heart arrhythmia, pneumonia, anaphylaxis, asthma or COPD.

Shortness of breath can also be one symptom of a heart attack, which is why many people experiencing severe anxiety may worry that they are experiencing a heart attack.

Therefore, the best way to tell if your shortness of breath is caused by anxiety or a different medical issue is to look for other symptoms of anxiety, such as:

  • Irritability

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Shortness Of Breath Feeling Out Of Breath Can’t Catch Your Breath Anxiety Symptom Common Descriptions:

This shortness and out of breath symptom can occur rarely and last only for a few moments, occur frequently, or persist 24×7. For example, you feel out of breath once in a while and not that often, feel out of breath off and on, or feel out of breath or that you cant catch your breath all the time.

This out of breath symptom can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.

Shortness of breath can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur out of the blue and for no apparent reason.

Feeling short or out of breath can range in intensity from slight and barely noticeable, to moderate, or to severe. It can also come in waves where its strong one moment and eases off the next.

This shortness of breath symptom can change from day to day and from moment to moment.

For example, you can feel short of breath most of the time every day, and then, for no apparent reason, suddenly breathe normally for a few hours only for shortness of breath to return.

Or, you can breathe normally most of the time but have periods where you feel short of breath and like you cant catch your breath.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

This shortness of breath, out of breath, or cant catch your breath symptom can seem more pronounced and troublesome when undistracted or when trying to rest or go to sleep.

Breathing To Influence Calmness

This exercise is most beneficial when used to release tension before it builds. It is recommended to use this exercise at least ten times each day to eliminate stress. Practicing will allow you to call upon the technique whenever you find your breathing affected by anxiety.

  • Breathe in slowly through your nose, pulling air into your lower lungs first, then upper
  • Hold your breath for three second
  • Exhale slowly through your lips as you relax your jaw, face, stomach, and shoulders

This exercise should help you reestablish feelings of calmness. Use it anytime you feel anxiety building or to calm yourself during panic or episodes of anxiety.

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Anxiety Could Trigger Hyperventilation

Like many bodily functions, the nervous system automatically regulates the rate of breathing. Unlike other body functions alone, in addition to this automatic control, one can voluntarily increase the rate of breathing . Due to this feature, some factors such as distress, intense emotional states or habits may increase the speed of breathing. These factors are especially important in patients with panic attacks because they tend to breathe more than necessary which could be a symptom of anxiety.

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