Can Anxiety Cause Shortness of Breath?

Depression, Mental Health | 0 comments

Anxiety can create various physical symptoms, including shortness of breath, in those who suffer from this mental health condition. This symptom can be alarming and distressing for individuals to experience, especially when it is not known whether the breathing difficulties are linked to anxiety or not. 

Understanding the Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety is a natural response to stress or perceived threats that trigger the body’s “fight or flight” response. While occasional feelings of anxiety are normal, persistent or excessive anxiety can lead to a range of physical and psychological symptoms including: 

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of Breath

These symptoms are not always an indicator of anxiety. This can become a concern for those who have not been diagnosed with anxiety. 

Fight or Flight Response

Shortness of breath, when associated with anxiety, is one such indicator of the fight or flight response. When faced with a perceived threat, the body releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones prepare the body for action by increasing heart rate, dilating airways, and redirecting blood flow to essential organs. While this response is adaptive in situations of immediate danger, it can become dysregulated in individuals with anxiety disorder. The “fight or flight” response is a survival mechanism that your body uses in response to stress or anxiety. Learning about this response allows you to recognize when your body is experiencing it, allowing you to better use coping skills to manage the response.   

Dyspnea and Anxiety 

Shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea, occurs when you feel like you can’t get enough air into your lungs. This sensation can be distressing and may exacerbate feelings of anxiety, creating a vicious cycle where anxiety leads to shortness of breath, which, in turn, increases anxiety. 

How to Tell If Shortness of Breath Is From Anxiety

There are several factors that contribute to the link between anxiety and shortness of breath including:

  • Hyperventilating: During moments of anxiety, you may breathe more rapidly than usual, leading to hyperventilation. This overbreathing disrupts the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body, causing sensations of breathlessness, dizziness, and tingling in the hands and feet. 
  • Muscle tension: Anxiety often leads to muscle tension, particularly in the chest and diaphragm. Tightened chest muscles can restrict breathing, making it feel like you’re unable to take deep breaths. 
  • Sensory hyperarousal: People with anxiety may become hyper aware of bodily sensations, including their breathing. This heightened sensitivity can magnify the perception of shortness of breath, even if there’s no physiological cause for concern.  
  • Panic attacks: In severe cases of anxiety, panic attacks can occur. These intense surges of fear or panic are accompanied by symptoms like rapid heartbeat, chest pain, and, you guessed it, shortness of breath.  

If your child or loved one experiences any of these symptoms, it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional. Serious symptoms of shortness of breath require immediate attention from a doctor or other healthcare professional to ensure that physical health is cared for. Shortness of breath is a serious concern that may have other underlying causes aside from anxiety that should be addressed. 

How to Manage Shortness of Breath from Anxiety 

There are plenty of coping strategies you can use to alleviate shortness of breath caused by anxiety. Deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation (such as yoga), mindfulness and meditation are all methods that help regulate breathing and focus on breathing techniques. Not only do these help relax and manage anxiety but they also help manage overall physical health. 

Seek help from a professional if anxiety is significantly impacting the life of your child or loved one. There are plenty of adolescent mental health treatment programs for anxiety to choose from. Using an outpatient treatment program is a great option for adolescents with manageable anxiety that do not require a residential program. An outpatient program allows clients to continue going to school and go about their daily lives while seeking treatment, though some clients may elect our full day treatment program and may be out of school. It also allows them to practice coping skills in their daily life while learning about them through their treatment program. If they need to be adjusted during the program, it is a great time to practice those coping skills to determine what works best to manage anxiety. 

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