How to Tell if Shortness of Breath Is From Anxiety?

Anxiety is a primitive biological response to danger. With everyday pressure, it’s not uncommon for people to feel anxious occasionally. To some, anxiety starts in childhood, while it develops in adulthood for others. Either way, when such feelings are persistent and get in the way of your daily life, then you may have an anxiety disorder. And since panic attacks do not manifest in every person who has this condition, shortness of breath is a common symptom.

Read on to learn how to cope with and overcome the shortness of breath experienced due to anxiety.

At What Point Does Shortness of Breath Occur?

Dyspnea [3*]  is a clinical term for shortness of breath that panic attacks or other medical conditions can cause. This feeling can be unsettling because your breathing pattern changes. You may feel as if:

  • You are gasping for air
  • Your breathing pace is quicker than usual, and you cannot slow it down
  • You feel suffocated
  • Breathing feels shallow and restricted

How to Tell If Dyspnea Is Caused by Anxiety

Shortness of breath is a common symptom of anxiety, but it can also be a sign of some other medical conditions. Dyspnea due to anxiety usually manifests with the following symptoms:

  • Chest tightness
  • Fast and shallow breathing
  • Stiff muscles
  • Sweating
  • Fainting spells
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Nauseous feeling
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Speech, memory, and concentration problems

How to Get Rid of Shortness of Breath from Anxiety

When experiencing shortness of breath, it is important to practice self-care strategies recommended by mental health experts. They will help you develop healthier responses to the shortness of breath episodes. Some examples are explained below.


Mental health experts encourage exercise in patients with anxiety disorders. A recent meta-analysis [4*]  found that people with anxiety disorders who were physically active had lower chances of developing anxiety symptoms than those with a sedentary lifestyle. Therefore, when dealing with anxiety, high-level physical activity is a good means of preventing symptoms.

Relaxation Techniques

The relaxation response is the opposite of the stress response. Relaxation skills address anxiety by decreasing muscle tension, slowing breathing, and calming the mind hence invoking a relaxation response. With regular practice, you can be in control whenever you need. The following techniques will help train your body and mind to relax.

  • Progressive relaxation. In this technique, you must focus on slowly tensing and relaxing each group of muscles. It helps you become more aware of physical sensations and eases your anxiety.
  • Autogenic training. This technique is self-induced. It uses both visual imagery and body awareness to reduce anxiety. While it can take time to learn, it can effectively control anxiety once mastered.
  • Guided imagery. This method is based on the concept of the mind-body connection. You should intentionally visualize positive and peaceful settings to evoke feelings of relaxation. This technique requires mental health professionals’ help in the beginning, but you can practice it independently once learned.
  • Biofeedback-assisted relaxation. This method helps patients learn how to control involuntary body processes, such as muscle tension or heart rate. It involves using electrical sensors to help patients receive information about their bodies on a screen. For instance, you may be required to relax specific muscles to reduce pain.

Immediately see a doctor if you feel breathlessness even after an hour of rest or have severe breathlessness or chest pain. After a thorough evaluation of your symptoms and physical examination, the professional will tell you the diagnosis and choose treatment options.

Pursed-lip Breathing

Pursed-lip breathing is a process designed to make your breathing more effective and gives you more control over the process. This is how to do it:

  • Relax your neck as well as your shoulder muscles.
  • Breath in while keeping your mouth closed.
  • Pucker your lips as if you were about to whistle.
  • Exhale gently via your pursed lips while counting to three.

Remember these simple rules to get the correct breathing pattern:

  • Avoid forcing air out.
  • Always exhale longer than you inhale.
  • Breath gently in and out until you are in total control.

Recognizing Your Triggers

Triggers are actions or situations that lead to feelings of anxiety. While most people know their triggers, some experience anxiety with no apparent cause. However, those who have experienced bouts of anxiety before can identify situations that caused stress to avoid future episodes. Therefore, determining your triggers is a crucial step in managing them. Some of the common anxiety triggers are:

  • Certain medication
  • Skipping meals
  • Negative thinking
  • Social events
  • Stress

When to See a Doctor

You should seek professional help if anxiety begins to affect the following aspects of your life:

  • Personal relationships
  • The ability to function from day to day
  • The ability to enjoy life


Episodes of breathlessness can occur at any time and age in people with anxiety. These experiences do not always translate to danger. However, while anxiety can lead to shortness of breath, sometimes an underlying health condition may cause breathlessness. Always consult a doctor when the episodes are persistent and long-lasting.
If you feel caught up in your anxiety, talk to licensed doctors. At EZCare Clinic, we are devoted to our patients, and we do everything within our means to provide you with the personalized mental health care you deserve. Call Us today to book an appointment.


+4 sources
  1. Dyspnea: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options. (2023)
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  2. Physical Activity Is Associated With Lower Long-Term Incidence of Anxiety in a Population-Based, Large-Scale Study. (2021)
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  3. Dyspnea: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options. (2023)
    Source link
  4. Physical Activity Is Associated With Lower Long-Term Incidence of Anxiety in a Population-Based, Large-Scale Study. (2021)
    Source link

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