Anxiety and Shortness of Breath


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Anxiety can show itself in so many ways. Shortness of breath is one of them. Shortness of breath and anxiety go hand in hand for most people. But what is the relationship between the two? Shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea, can be a symptom of panic attacks, but it can also be caused by other mental health disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder.

Anxiety causes shortness of breath because adrenaline increases blood flow to your muscles so you are able to run away from any possible danger. If you have an anxiety attack this response will happen more intensely than if there was no threat present at all.

What are the causes of hyperventilation?

The cause of hyperventilation can vary from person to person, but it usually has a common link–wheeziness, chest pain and difficulty breathing. Sometimes, these symptoms are linked to an asthma attack, anxiety or panic attack. In other cases, they may indicate that the individual is suffering from lung cancer.

Hyperventilation occurs when you take in more oxygen than your organs can use. This creates a higher concentration of CO2 which leads to faster breathing – it’s the body’s way of counteracting this rise in carbon dioxide levels so as not to lose too much CO2 through exhalation. Hyperventilation is typically caused by a decrease in blood flow (i.e., bronchial spasm) or excessive activity.

The body needs oxygen to survive. While breathing, we take oxygen to the lungs, and the oxygen that enters the blood is bound to a substance: hemoglobin. Hemoglobin transports oxygen to the tissues that it reaches through the bloodstream and releases the carbon dioxide from the tissues into the lungs as a result of the use of oxygen in the tissues. Regularly maintaining the body’s energy responses is regulated by the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. This balance is regulated by the speed and depth of respiration.

Hyperventilation (Fast Breathing)

Hyperventilation is the name for breathing more than the body needs.

Excessive and deep breathing increases the oxygen (O2) level in the blood and decreases the carbon dioxide (CO2) level. At rest, the appropriate breathing rate ranges from about 10-14 minutes per minute. In moving situations (walking, running, etc.), which naturally leads to energy consumption and increases O2 consumption and CO2 production, the person’s breathing rate increases. 

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 (such as when balloon inflating). 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.

Effects of Hyperventilation

Hyperventilation also has many observed effects. First, excessive breathing is physically exhausting. Therefore, the person gets hot. Secondly, breathing too much is exhausting and can cause fatigue and burnout. Thirdly, people who breathe excessively and quickly breathe through the diaphragm (abdominal) – abdominal breathing, rather than using their breasts – chest breathing.

This results in the tightening and fatigue of the chest muscles. Therefore, they may feel chest tightness and even severe chest pain. Finally, individuals who breathe excessively have the habit of repetitive sighing and stretching. Therefore, when fighting this problem, it is important to try to reduce it by becoming aware of habitual sighing and stretching.

Is Hyperventilation Dangerous?

The most important point to remember about hyperventilation is that it is not DANGEROUS. Changes caused by hyperventilation prepare the body to take action to avoid potential hazards. Therefore, it is an automatic response for the brain to immediately awaken the danger and awaken the person’s desire to escape.

Note: Today there are many mental disorders, and they all have different symptoms. Breathing problem doesn’t lead to a specific disorder. Also, not everyone has the same symptoms so before going to psychiatry make sure isn’t a general breathing problem. The common symptoms of people suffering from shortness of breath and anxiety are restlessness, not being able to stay in the same place for a long time, not being able to ensure the continuity of regular activities. 

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Aaron Beck

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About Author

Currently studying psychology and researching cognitive behavioral therapy. Also have studied comprative literature,interested in gender studies,.

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