In this guide, we will discuss “How to tell if shortness of breath is from anxiety, how does shortness of breath feel like, medical conditions that could potentially cause shortness of breath, symptoms related to anxiety, how to stop shortness of breath when it is a symptom associated with anxiety, how to do diaphragmatic breathing and other useful techniques.
How to tell if shortness of breath is from anxiety?
If you are wondering ‘How to tell if shortness of breath is from anxiety’ it might be because you or someone close to you have experienced it recently or for quite a while and you would like to know if the difficulty breathing/trouble breathing can be associated to an anxiety-related condition or if it can be attributed to something else, such as coronavirus.
First of all, shortness of breath can be a symptom associated with several medical conditions or diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, anemia, lung cancer, arrhythmia, allergic reactions, and even coronavirus. Moreover, it can’t only be attributed to physical affections as the ones we have mentioned but also mental health conditions such as anxiety or panic attacks.
When someone experiences shortness of breath, it can become a frightening and scary situation, so it is normal to want to know what could potentially be causing it.
Here we will see how to differentiate the difference between having shortness of breath from anxiety and from other affections.
For instance, due to the current situation all over the world, people with coronavirus have reported shortness of breath but some people that report having all the symptoms don’t test positive for it.
Let’s consider how people who are symptomatic are most likely to have high fever, fatigue, and dry cough.
However, they may also experience shortness of breath, a stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, aches and pain or even gastrointestinal issues (i.e. diarrhea).
In contrast, just having shortness of beath doesn’t necessarily mean you have anxiety as well as automatically having coronavirus.
Your doctor will assess your condition by asking additional questions about what your symptoms are, when they started and how often they present themselves.
Wearing masks is crucial for our safety. Masks made out of breathable fabrics offer a viable solution to this problem. That’s why, we’ve made a list of the Best Breathable Face Mask for Anxiety.
How does shortness of breath feel like?
If you had the feeling where you seem to take a deep breath but there is really not enough air to go into your lungs where it becomes very difficult to breathe normally, or you feel like you are about to choke, you may be experiencing shortness of breath.
Symptoms you could identify when having shortness of breath include:
- Tightness in your chest
- Breathing faster than normal gasping for air
- Feeling like you need more oxygen
The first time this happens to you, it can make you feel confused and disoriented.
In addition, you could feel as it happened out of the blue or if you pay attention to the before and after, you could find a probable cause.
For instance, you may feel shortness of breath after exercising, which doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad since it could be due to extra limiting yourself with a certain routine or exercise.
Subsequently, it is important to pay attention to when, how, why it happens.
Medical conditions that could cause shortness of breath
There are many medical conditions that could include shortness of beath among the symptoms such as:
- congestive heart failure
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
- heart arrhythmia or heart attack
- heart disease
- lung disease
- myasthenia gravis
- pulmonary edema
- pulmonary embolism
- pulmonary arterial hypertension
Symptoms related to anxiety
Anxiety is our body’s natural response to fear or threatening situations, you may know it as the ‘flight or fight’ response.
Our brain is the one responsible for sending a signal to our body in order for us to get ready to fight or run away from the potentially threatening situation guaranteeing our survival.
As we have discussed, one of the symptoms is shortness of breath but the main characteristic here is that it is temporary, meaning it will last as long as we are exposed to specific triggers and the second would be that it can’t be associated with a physical condition.
In addition, there are other symptoms that can be associated with anxiety such as:
- Faster breathing
- Chest pain and or tightness (like having a heart attack)
- Feeling of suffocation
- Muscle tension
- Heart palpitations (increased heart rate)
- Feeling dizzy
In contrast, if the shortness of breath was related to any other condition, it would present itself most of the time or for a prolonged amount of time, with other symptoms (i.e. continuous cough or high temperature) and without any evident stimulus to trigger it.
However, if you notice there are other physical symptoms associated with the shortness of breath that keeps deteriorating your health, make sure to pay a visit to your GP so they can run some diagnostic tests.
How to stop shortness of breath from anxiety?
If the shortness of breath is a symptom related to an anxiety attack or panic attack, it is important to focus on your breathing.
This will help you get enough oxygen into your lungs to relax and calm down.
But when we hear we need to ‘focus on our breathing’ we may think ‘ I am already doing that and it seems to get worse’.
The truth is that when we are having an anxiety attack or a panic attack our breathing becomes shallow and superficial and in our desperate attempt to get more air into our lungs, we start to breathe faster but not precisely a synonym of ‘deep’ breathing.
In contrast, deep breathing is a type of technique that engages the lower part of your lungs and your diaphragm, which is the muscle at the base of your chest that separates the abdomen from the chest.
Subsequently, when you experience shortness of breath it means you are letting air into your mouth and into the upper lung area.
If you need a CPAP mask to improve your breathing during anxiety attacks, try these Best CPAP Mask for Anxiety.
If you would like to learn diaphragmatic breathing, here is how:
- Find a comfortable place and sit. It could be a chair, your couch, or your bed. Make sure you lie back on a flat surface where you could also find support for your head.
- Place your hand on the upper area of your chest and the other just below your rib cage, on your stomach. This will allow you to feel when the air goes in and identify which parts you are engaging in when you breathe.
- Take a deep breath through your nose and try to send it over to your stomach. You will notice how the hand you have placed on your stomach starts to move while the one on your chest stays still.
- Tighten your stomach muscles as you exhale through your nose or your mouth.
- Practice for a few minutes (5-10 mins a day) until you feel you have mastered this type of breathing technique.
When you start practicing this technique you may feel light-headed or dizzy but as long as you keep practicing it will become easier in time.
Here are some other techniques that may be useful when dealing with shortness of breath or other related symptoms of anxiety.
You could even combine it with your breathing exercises.
- Grounding techniques: when you have distressing feelings and thoughts you could use mental distractions to shift your attention. For instance, you could sing a piece of your favorite song, play a memory game, use math and numbers, or even make yourself laugh.
- Mindfulness meditation: this will help you stay and live in the present moment, instead of stressing about the future. There are plenty of guided meditations on youtube you could benefit from.
- Exercise: When you feel stressed, worried, or overwhelmed because of your thoughts, consider going for a walk or a quick run to help you relax and calm down.
If you are still feeling overwhelmed with anxiety after trying everything, consider seeing a mental health professional for additional advice on how to cope with anxiety.
Tracking the episodes
If you would like to determine whether the shortness of breath you are experiencing is related to anxiety or any other condition, try tracking down the episodes.
Try to keep a journal with you whenever possible and record the episodes as follows:
- Specify the date
- Identify the trigger or stimulus responsible for the episode.
- Write any thoughts that came to your mind while it happened.
- Rate the thought from 1 to 10 where 1 is not stressful and 10 is extremely stressful.
If you don’t want to keep a journal or a notebook try using the notes app in your phone for a more discrete approach.
Let’s take a look at an example of how to record your episodes:
“I started to feel like I couldn’t breathe even if I tried after I had a huge argument with my husband. What I immediately thought was that he doesn’t want to be with me anymore and I feel he would leave me soon. This makes me feel extremely anxious and sad (10).”
Note how this should not take much time to record and it is also not complicated at all.
However, we could see what caused the shortness of breath to appear, what this person felt, and thought at the moment and how intense it was.
Why is this blog about How to tell if shortness of breath is from anxiety important?
As we have discussed, if you would like to tell if shortness of breath comes from anxiety or if it is a symptom associated with a related illness it is imperative to analyze the context and what happens before the episode.
Moreover, if the shortness of breath is actually a symptom related to anxiety you now have a few techniques on how to address it.
Remember to visit your GP or seek professional advice if the shortness of breath is prolonged, comes with other symptoms such as high fever or persistent cough or if it is getting too overwhelming.
Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!
Elmer, J. (2018, Aug.) How Anxiety Can Cause Shortness of Breath and What You Can Do. Retrieved from healthline.com.
Ladered, A. (2020, Apr.) How to Tell If Your Shortness of Breath Is From Anxiety or Coronavirus. Retrieved from self.com.