Breathing Issues Due to Anxiety and Stress


A potentially and understandably scary sensation that can accompany anxiety and stress is experiencing the feeling of being short of breath, having difficulty breathing, not be able to catch your breath, or to feel light-headed due to the inability to breathe with ease.

Even so, it is important to try and remember that when the body is able to recover from the excessively heightened state of stress, the sensation of not being able to breathe will subside.

Therefore, even if it can feel like a very immediate concern, the shortness of breath that can accompany high anxiety and stress is not a long-lasting cause for concern.

While it can be difficult in those moments to believe it, it is very unlikely that you will stop breathing altogether or lose consciousness.

This can be particularly challenging since you are already feeling anxious, as the worry that you may be in danger of not breathing or passing out is not exactly conducive to being able to achieve a calmer state.

However, if you are experiencing what feels like a panic attack and/or hyperventilation and requiring some immediate relief, you may wish to try the following breathing technique:

If your symptoms are uncomfortable, but not as intense as hyperventilation, it is possible to start feeling better and to catch your breath by consciously working to lower your tension, practicing deep breathing, attempting to rest and experience a sense of relaxation, and not overly focusing on the sensation of feeling the shortness of breath caused by anxiety and stress.

It is absolutely true that not being able to breathe comfortably which can be accompanied by heightened stress and anxiety can be unsettling.

Again, it can be helpful to note that when your body has recovered from the anxiety response and/or sustained stress, your breathing will return to normal and the shortness of breath will subside.

What can trigger the shortness of breath due to anxiety and stress?

Shortness of breath as a result of stress and anxiety may precede, accompany, or follow particularly intense anxious experiences and situations, or occur on its own.

When this kind of stress and anxiety response occur occasionally or rarely, the body can recover reasonably quickly from the physiological, psychological, and emotional consequences that can result from a response to heightened stress.

However, when stress responses take place consistently and/or significantly, the body has a harder time recovering from the more habitual experiences, which can lead to the body remaining in an hyper-stimulated state with elevated stress hormone levels.

When an individual becomes stress-response adapted toward hyper-arousal, the body can exhibit similar symptoms to that of an active stress response as though the stress stimulus is ongoing and active (ie, as though something stressful is happening in this very moment), even if it isn’t.

The symptoms related to shortness of breath is an example of how the body can experience this stress response from mentally or emotionally induced feelings of stress, as opposed to an actively extrinsic stressful situation

How to eliminate the shortness of breath stress and anxiety symptoms?

As a result of the body preparing itself to handle the ‘fight or flight’ stress response, there are physiological changes that occur such as increase in heart rate, quickening and shortening of breath, and the tightening of muscles.

In preparation to deal with perceived dangers, these physiological modifications is what is the cause of why you may experience the sensation of not being able to breathe.

Or for no clear reason, you can feel out of breath and find yourself yawning excessively, to try and catch your breath or for your body to try and get more oxygen into your body.

When this feeling is triggered, you may have unknowingly stopped breathing regularly and as deeply as required, and your body has responded by yawning in an attempt to gain equilibrium.

As you are able to replenish your body’s needs for oxygen, your body will experience less tension and your breathing will return to more of a norm.

It can be helpful to know that it can take approximately 20 minutes or more for the body to recuperate from a major stress response.

While immediate relief is undoubtedly more preferable, especially when there is discomfort, the body’s stress response does take some time to readjust.

What can be helpful to know about experiencing shortness of breath

Difficulty with breathing due to stress and anxiety can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and heightened stress which can be consciously evident, or happen unexpectedly or ‘out of the blue’ which may be evidence of an unconscious stress response.

Shortness of breath or issues with breathing can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It might feel like you are so out of breath that you have to gasp for air or that it’s not possible to breathe deeply enough.

These breathing symptoms can at times be quite consistent, while other times it can change quite drastically, from day to day, and/or even from moment to moment.

You may feel a shortness of breath once in a while and occassionally, feel it off and on, or feel it all the time.

These symptoms can come and go and happen rarely, take place often, or be a consistent part of your life.

All of the above combinations and variations may be true for you.

If you have been experiencing these particular symptoms for some time, it could be that you have habituated triggers toward stress responses.

The stress response immediately triggers specific physiological, mental, and psychological reactions in the body that prepares the body’s ability to deal with a perceived danger, as mentioned previous as the ‘fight or flight’ response.

Since there can be many medical and psychological conditions that can cause anxiety-like experiences and symptoms, please consult your trusted medical professional if there are new, changing, consistent, intensifying and returning symptoms.

If you are able to rule out specific medical and/or physical concerns for your shortness of breath, you can start to focus on learning ways to deal with your stress and anxiety to reduce or eliminate this particular stress response.

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