Can Anxiety Cause Shortness of Breath?

December 26, 2023

A woman in deep thought, asking herself: can anxiety cause shortness of breath?

The sensation of breathlessness is a frequent symptom associated with anxiety. Specific circumstances can act as triggers for anxiety, subsequently leading to a sense of shortness of breath (dyspnea). This experience of breathlessness, in turn, may heighten feelings of anxiety.

Individuals may mistakenly interpret the symptom of anxiety-induced shortness of breath as a potential issue related to their breathing or heart. This guide explores the connection between shortness of breath and anxiety and addresses the following issues:

  • Can anxiety cause shortness of breath?
  • Can anxiety cause chest pain and shortness of breath?
  • Can stress and anxiety cause shortness of breath?

You can also discover how to connect with evidence-based mental health treatment to improve well-being and restore functioning.

Anxiety and Shortness of Breath

Anxiety is the body’s innate fear response, often referred to as the fight-or-flight response. In preparation for either confronting or fleeing from a perceived threat, the body undergoes both physical and mental changes.

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Shortness of breath is a manifestation of this response, characterized by sensations such as difficulty catching breath, chest tightness, and a sensation of suffocation or a craving for air.

Research reveals a solid connection between anxiety and respiratory symptoms, especially shortness of breath.

Additional symptoms that may manifest during this anxiety response include:

  • Increased breathing rate (hyperventilation)
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Breathlessness or a sense of suffocation
  • Sensation of having a lump in the throat
  • Muscle tension
  • Heart palpitations (felt as a stronger, faster heartbeat)
  • Feeling faint, dizzy, or unsteady
  • Nausea or discomfort in the stomach
  • Restlessness, irritability, or an overall sense of edginess
Man wondering can anxiety cause shortness of breath?

How to Tell if Shortness of Breath Is from Anxiety

Associations with fear are baked into anxiety and panic, triggering behavioral and physiological changes geared towards self-defense in the face of perceived threats.

In response to fearful situations, the brain initiates a fight-or-flight reaction. This prompts an increase in heart rate, enabling accelerated blood circulation to the organs and preparing the muscles for swift action. Simultaneously, the person breathes more rapidly to supply additional oxygen to the muscles, potentially resulting in shortness of breath.

Distinguishing whether symptoms stem from anxiety or another health issue can be challenging, especially when symptoms are severe. Shortness of breath, a potential manifestation of anxiety, is not universally experienced by all individuals with anxiety.

Anxiety can trigger a spectrum of physical and psychological symptoms, encompassing:

  • Dry mouth
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Shaking
  • Muscle tension
  • Rapid breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Agitation
  • Impaired concentration
  • Confusion
  • Poor memory
  • Difficulty speaking

For those encountering persistent or severe anxiety, a healthcare professional may diagnose a specific anxiety disorder, which may include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety, agoraphobia, specific phobia, or panic disorder.

How to Get Treatment for Anxiety and Shortness of Breath

If you are experiencing anxiety and shortness of breath, seeking appropriate treatment can help you manage these symptoms effectively. Here are steps you can take to address anxiety-related breathlessness:

  • Consult a healthcare professional: Begin by scheduling an appointment with a healthcare provider, such as a primary care physician or a mental health specialist. They can conduct a thorough evaluation, considering both physical and psychological factors, to determine the root cause of your symptoms.
  • Discuss your symptoms: Openly discuss your symptoms, including the triggers for anxiety and when you experience shortness of breath. Providing detailed information helps healthcare professionals make an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment.
  • Consider therapy: Mental health professionals like psychologists or psychiatrists can offer therapeutic interventions to address anxiety. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is an evidence-based approach that helps people identify and manage anxious thoughts and behaviors.
  • Medication options: In some cases, medications may be prescribed to alleviate anxiety symptoms. Antidepressants, benzodiazepines, or anti-anxiety medications may be recommended based on the severity and nature of symptoms.
  • Lifestyle changes: Adopting lifestyle modifications can contribute to anxiety management. Practices such as regular exercise, adequate sleep, and stress-reduction techniques like mindfulness or meditation can be beneficial.
  • Breathing exercises: Learning and practicing specific breathing exercises can help people manage shortness of breath associated with anxiety. Controlled breathing techniques can help regulate the breath and reduce feelings of breathlessness.
  • Seek specialized help: If anxiety significantly interferes with daily life, consider seeking specialized help from mental health professionals who specialize in anxiety disorders. They can provide targeted interventions and support.
  • Address underlying causes: If there are underlying medical conditions contributing to shortness of breath, your healthcare provider will work to address those issues in conjunction with anxiety treatment.
  • Support groups: Consider joining support groups or therapy groups where you can interact with people who share similar experiences. This sense of community can provide understanding, encouragement, and coping strategies.
  • Follow through with recommendations: Follow through with the treatment plan. Take prescribed medications as directed, attend scheduled appointments, and actively participate in therapy or recommended interventions.

Remember that effective treatment for anxiety and shortness of breath often involves a combination of therapeutic approaches tailored to personal needs. Working collaboratively with healthcare professionals ensures a comprehensive and individualized plan for managing these symptoms and improving your overall well-being.

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Get Treatment for Anxiety at Connections Mental Health

We offer a variety of mental health programs at Connections Mental Health in Southern California, including treatment for anxiety disorders.

Engage with evidence-based and holistic therapies at our beachside facility along with a small number of peers battling similar issues. We limit intake to six people at any one time, ensuring that you get the personalized level of care you need to recalibrate your life. Call the friendly admissions team today at 844-413-0009 and find out how to combat anxiety disorder and improve overall well-being.

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