Shortness of Breath Anxiety

Shortness of breath anxiety explained

Up to 25% of the American population experience shortness of breath – dyspnea – at some point each year, so it's no surprise that dyspnea patients make up most of the medical complaints that ER departments receive each day. Do you have shortness of breath anxiety?

In most cases, dyspnea is the result of cardiopulmonary conditions such as asthma, but another major cause of shortness of breath is anxiety.

What is shortness of breath anxiety?

Shortness of breath anxiety can be caused by one of two types of anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a long term condition which causes the sufferer to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and events throughout the day. GAD is much rarer than other types of anxiety disorder and sufferers who experience constant feelings of anxiety should contact their doctor immediately.

The other type of anxiety disorder which commonly causes shortness of breath is Panic Disorder. This differs from GAD in that the sufferer may experience sudden bouts of anxiety attacks without any underlying cause or reason. Typically these “panic attacks” will happen without warning and only last a few minutes.

What causes shortness of breath anxiety?

The causes of anxiety are unknown, but the effects of it are well understood. When you become anxious your body activates its stress responses, these immediately cause physiological and psychological changes in the your body which are designed to enhance your body's ability to deal with the supposed threat.

Symptoms include an increased heart rate, sweating and a tightening of the body's muscles, including breathing muscles, which cause a shortness of breath.

In normal circumstances these symptoms will soon pass and the body will return to a normal state quickly. But in sufferers of shortness of breath anxiety, the body experiences these symptoms more frequently and finds it more difficult to return to a normal state.

In this case the body becomes semi-hyperstimulated and begins to exhibit active stress response sensations constantly. This causes shortness of breath anxiety symptoms to occur more frequently than normal.

When should you see a doctor?

In most cases a shortness of breath is not life threatening and you will recover quickly without the need to visit a physician.

However, if the symptoms persist and begin to worsen over time or attacks become more frequent, you may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder and you should visit a doctor as soon as possible to get it checked out.

When to visit your doctor

  • Anxiety and shortness of breath is beginning to interfere with your daily life, including preventing you from going out, interfering with your social life and affecting your personal and professional relationships.
  • You feel like you don't have control over your emotions and worry about being out in public when an attack strikes.
  • Feelings of depression set in and you begin increasing alcohol consumption or start using recreational drugs to cope.
  • You start experiencing suicidal thoughts or begin harming yourself (seek medical assistance immediately).

Can shortness of breath anxiety be cured? Treatments

There is no known cure for shortness of breath anxiety but the symptoms can be managed long term and may go away on their own over time.

Several treatments have been developed to help people cope with dyspnea.

Psychological therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been shown to provide significant improvements on patients that are suffering from GAD.


Patients may benefit from the use of a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Coping with shortness of breath anxiety

While there is no cure for anxiety, there are some things you can do to make living with the condition easier.

Follow your treatment plan

If you have been put on a treatment plan make sure you follow it. Ensure that any medication is taken in accordance with the prescription and attend all therapy appointments. These treatment plans are proven to help alleviate attacks, but they must be implemented properly to do so.

Keep a journal

Keeping a journal of when and where you suffer shortness of breath anxiety attacks can help your health care professional determine the most appropriate treatment plan.

Join a support group

Support groups are available to anxiety sufferers across the United States. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) can help put you in contact with a support group near you.

Don't lock yourself away

It can be tempting to isolate yourself when you feel an attack coming on. Don't let anxiety control your life, make plans with people you enjoy spending time with and get out of the house. The fresh air and exercise will do you the world of good.

Exercising and things you can do at home to help alleviate anxiety

While therapy and medication can help, you may want to make some lifestyle adjustments to further alleviate your symptoms.

Avoid alcohol

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can increase the risk of an anxiety attack. Keep alcohol intake to a minimum and never drink when you're alone.

Stop smoking

Nicotine increases your heart rate and blood pressure, amplifying any anxiety feelings you may have. Stopping smoking is a good idea for everyone, but especially those who suffer from shortness of breath anxiety. If you're having trouble quitting, your doctor should be able to help.

Reduce caffeinated drinks

Like nicotine, caffeine raises your heart rate and blood pressure so the consumption of caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea and energy drinks should be kept to an absolute minimum.

Eat a healthy diet

A good diet will help you remain positive and full of energy, make sure you eat lots of fruit and vegetables, along with whole grains and replace red meats with lean alternatives, such as chicken and fish.

Get plenty of exercise

Exercise releases endorphins which help improve your mental state and reduce stress levels. Start with a range of simple exercises which you can do at home until you build your strength. Regular exercise will make a world of difference to your mental health.

Last Reviewed:
August 29, 2017
Last Updated:
October 06, 2017
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