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Many people often feel like they can’t breathe properly, making them uncomfortable. This situation can happen to many people and might come with a tight chest feeling.

It can make people worried, stop them from doing physical things, and mess up their daily plans. Shortness of breath is a problem that affects everyone, no matter how old or where they’re from.

People want to know why it happens and how to deal with it. Sometimes, feeling like you can’t breathe might be because of anxiety.

However, understanding the connection between anxiety and shortness of breath is crucial in addressing this issue and tailoring appropriate interventions.

Anxiety is a general health condition that affects everybody. According to Magdalena Spariosu, M.D., acting chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Hackensack University Medical Center, “During the COVID-19 crisis, it would not be unusual for anyone to experience an anxiety attack.”

The pandemic has added an extra layer of stress, amplifying the potential for anxiety to manifest in anyone’s life. Read on to explore how anxiety can lead to shortness of breath.

The Connection Between Anxiety and Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath, medically known as dyspnea, is a common condition affecting many people of various ages. It manifests as struggling to breathe or not getting enough air. This condition can arise from both physiological and pathological factors.

As a result, it can profoundly affect individuals’ daily lives, causing discomfort and even panic. Simple activities like climbing stairs, walking, or talking can become challenging, reducing quality of life.

Understanding the potential causes of shortness of breath associated with anxiety requires an exploration of the intricate interplay between psychological and physiological factors.

Anxiety, a normal emotional response to stressors, can sometimes escalate into chronic and excessive worry that disrupts daily life. It is one of  12% of people in the U.S. Although anxiety is a mental health condition, a 2019 study.

When anxiety reaches a certain intensity, it can trigger a range of physical sensations, including shortness of breath. One of the fundamental mechanisms behind this phenomenon is the body’s “fight or flight” response.

When people perceive a threat, their bodies are ready to confront or escape it. This response involves the release of stress hormones like adrenaline, which stimulate various physiological changes to prepare the body for action.

Among these changes is the rapid increase in heart rate and the dilation of airways, which optimize oxygen delivery to muscles and enhance overall alertness. However, in individuals with anxiety disorders, this response can become dysregulated.

Even in non-threatening situations, their body may mistakenly activate the fight or flight response, leading to a surge in stress hormones and an array of physical symptoms, including shortness of breath.

Psychologically, individuals experiencing anxiety-related shortness of breath might become hyper-focused on their breathing pattern, attempting to control it consciously. This attention to breathing can disrupt the automatic and unconscious process of respiration, causing further discomfort.

Additionally, the distress caused by shortness of breath can exacerbate anxiety symptoms, creating a feedback loop reinforcing the association between anxiety and breathlessness.

What Are The Potential Causes of Shortness of Breath Associated with Anxiety?

Image Credit: medicalnewstoday.com

Shortness of breath is a common symptom of anxiety and can occur due to various factors:

1. Hyperventilation: Anxiety can trigger rapid, shallow breathing (hyperventilation), leading to a decrease in carbon dioxide levels and causing sensations of breathlessness.

2. Muscle Tension: Anxiety can cause muscle tension, including in the chest and neck, which can affect breathing patterns and create a sensation of difficulty in taking deep breaths.

3. Increased Heart Rate: Anxiety can elevate your heart rate, leading to a feeling of breathlessness as your body requires more oxygen during moments of stress.

4. Sensitized Nervous System: Anxiety can sensitize your nervous system, making you more aware of normal bodily sensations like heartbeat and breathing, which may be misinterpreted as breathing difficulties.

5. Fight or Flight Response: During moments of anxiety, your body activates the “fight or flight” response, diverting resources away from non-essential functions like digestion and breathing, potentially leading to a sense of breathlessness.

6. Chest Muscle Contraction: Anxiety can cause the muscles in the chest to contract, potentially leading to discomfort and difficulty taking deep breaths.

7. Panic Attacks: Intense anxiety can trigger panic attacks, during which you might experience rapid breathing, chest tightness, and inability to catch your breath.

8. Hypochondria: Anxiety can lead to heightened health-related fears, causing you to focus excessively on your breathing and bodily sensations, leading to a sensation of breathlessness.

Strategies to Try for Mindfulness and Emotional Well-Being

1. Mindful Breathing: Focus on your breath, observing its natural rhythm. Inhale and exhale slowly, directing your attention to the sensation of each breath. This practice helps bring you into the present moment.

2. Body Scan: Close your eyes and mentally scan your body from head to toe, paying attention to any sensations or tension. This approach helps you become aware of physical sensations and promotes relaxation.

3. Mindful Observation: Pick an object around you, such as a flower or fruit. Observe it closely, noticing its colors, textures, and details. This activity enhances your ability to be fully present.

4. Mindful Walking: Take a leisurely walk and focus on each step. Notice the sensations in your feet as they touch the ground. This activity helps you connect with your surroundings.

5. Mindful Eating: Eat slowly and savor each bite. Pay attention to the flavors, textures, and smells of your food. This practice enhances the enjoyment of eating and cultivates awareness.

6. Mindful Media Consumption: Consume media (books, movies, etc.) with awareness. Engage fully in the experience and reflect on how it makes you feel.

7. Mindful Listening: Practice active listening when in conversation. Pay attention to the speaker without interrupting or formulating your response in advance.

8. Breathing Exercises: Try different breathing techniques, such as deep or box breathing, to calm your nervous system and reduce stress.

Ways to Identify If The Cause is Anxiety

1. If shortness of breath mainly occurs during situations that induce anxiety, like public speaking or crowded places, it might be linked to anxiety.

2. Anxiety could be a factor if shortness of breath isn’t consistently present during physical activities but arises during calm moments or at rest.

3. Anxiety-induced shortness of breath often appears suddenly and intensifies rapidly, typically in response to stress or triggering thoughts.

4. If shortness of breath is accompanied by other signs of anxiety, such as racing heart, trembling, sweating, and feelings of fear or impending doom, anxiety might be the root cause.

5. Sometimes, engaging in activities that divert attention, like reading or watching a movie, can temporarily alleviate the shortness of breath if it’s anxiety-related.


1. Deep Breathing Exercises: Practicing slow and controlled deep breaths can help calm your nervous system and alleviate the feeling of shortness of breath.

2. Relaxation Techniques: Techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and meditation can reduce anxiety and promote a sense of calm, potentially improving your breathing.

3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapy helps you identify and change negative thought patterns contributing to anxiety. You can manage anxiety-related symptoms like shortness of breath by addressing these thoughts.

4. Medication: In severe cases, a doctor might prescribe anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants to help manage anxiety symptoms, including shortness of breath.

5. Lifestyle Changes: Engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and avoiding stimulants like caffeine and nicotine can reduce anxiety-related symptoms.

6. Professional Help: Consulting a therapist or counselor who specializes in anxiety disorders can provide you with tailored strategies to manage your symptoms effectively.

Different Techniques for Relaxation

Sure, here are some relaxation techniques that can help manage shortness of breath caused by anxiety:

1. Deep Breathing: Take slow, deep breaths through your nose and out through your mouth. This activity helps calm your nervous system and increases oxygen intake.

2. Diaphragmatic Breathing: Focus on breathing deeply from your diaphragm instead of shallow chest breaths. Place a hand on your abdomen to feel it rise and fall as you breathe.

3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Tense and relax different muscle groups in your body, one at a time. This method can reduce overall muscle tension and promote relaxation.

4. Mindfulness Meditation: Focus on the present moment, observing your thoughts and sensations without judgment. This approach can help reduce anxiety and promote calmness.

5. Visualization: Imagine a peaceful, calming scene or situation. Visualization can help shift your focus away from anxiety and induce relaxation.

6. Aromatherapy: Use calming scents like lavender or chamomile to trigger relaxation responses in the brain.

7. Listening to Calming Music: Slow-tempo, soothing music can relax your mind and body.

When to Contact a Doctor

Monitoring your symptoms is essential if you’re experiencing shortness of breath due to anxiety. If the shortness of breath is severe, prolonged, or accompanied by other concerning symptoms like chest pain, dizziness, or fainting, it’s a good idea to contact a doctor.

They can help determine whether an underlying medical issue might contribute to your symptoms or provide guidance on managing your anxiety. If you’re unsure, it’s better to contact a healthcare professional to ensure your well-being.

Other Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress

1. Engage in Physical Activity: Regular exercise releases endorphins, natural mood elevators. Physical activity can also help distract from stressors and improve overall well-being.

2. Maintain a Healthy Diet: Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can support your body’s ability to manage stress.

3. Get Enough Sleep: Lack of sleep can exacerbate anxiety and stress. Prioritize getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to support your mental health.

4. Limit Caffeine and Alcohol: Both caffeine and alcohol can affect your mood and exacerbate anxiety. Moderation is key.

5. Connect with Others: Spending time with friends and loved ones can provide emotional support and help you feel less isolated.

6. Set Realistic Goals: Break down larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps. Setting achievable goals can help prevent feeling overwhelmed.

7. Time Management: Prioritize tasks, create to-do lists, and avoid overcommitting to prevent unnecessary stress.

8. Limit Exposure to Stressors: Identify sources of stress and try to limit your exposure to them. This step might involve setting boundaries or avoiding specific triggers.

9. Seek Professional Help: When anxiety and stress become overwhelming, seeking support from a mental health professional can be incredibly beneficial.

BetterHelp is a platform offering online therapy services, connecting individuals with licensed therapists specializing in treating various mental health concerns. 

BetterHelp provides a convenient and flexible way to access therapy from the comfort of your own space through text, chat, phone, and video sessions.

This platform aims to offer guidance, coping strategies, and personalized support to help individuals manage their anxiety and stress effectively.


1. Is anxiety or shortness of breath harmful?

Anxiety itself is not harmful, as it’s a natural stress response. However, chronic or severe anxiety can negatively affect mental and physical well-being.

Shortness of breath caused by anxiety is usually harmless and temporary. If you experience sudden, severe shortness of breath, it’s advisable to seek medical attention.

2. Does anxiety cause low oxygen levels?

Anxiety does not directly cause low oxygen levels. However, during moments of intense anxiety, people might hyperventilate, which can lead to a sensation of shortness of breath and light-headedness.

This situation can temporarily alter the body’s balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, but it doesn’t usually result in sustained low oxygen levels.

3. Does shortness of breath go away?

Various factors, including anxiety, physical exertion, or medical conditions, can cause shortness of breath. If it’s due to anxiety or temporary factors, it often subsides as the triggering situation resolves.

If shortness of breath persists or worsens, it’s essential to consult a medical professional to determine the underlying cause.

4. How do you know if shortness of breath is heart-related?

Shortness of breath can have several potential causes, including heart-related issues. Signs that shortness of breath might be heart-related include accompanying symptoms like chest pain, discomfort radiating to the arm or jaw, nausea, or excessive sweating.

If you experience these symptoms, especially during physical activity, seeking medical attention promptly to rule out any potential heart problems is recommended.

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