Is Your Shortness of Breath Anxiety?

Feb 22, 2024 | Anxiety

Breathe Easy: Decoding the Signs – Is Your Shortness of Breath Anxiety or Something More?

When anxiety knocks on our doors, it doesn’t come alone; it brings along a host of physical symptoms, shortness of breath being one of them. This happens because, in a state of anxiety, our body gears up in a fight-or-flight response, a primitive mechanism designed to protect us from harm. Our heart rate accelerates, our muscles tense up, and our breathing becomes rapid and shallow – all in preparation to face a perceived threat. While these responses are normal in anxious situations, frequent and intense episodes can be debilitating and warrant attention.

How to Tell if Shortness of Breath is from Anxiety

Shortness of breath, medically known as dyspnea, is a sensation of uncomfortable breathing or the feeling that one cannot draw a deep breath. This condition can be a symptom of various underlying issues, ranging from temporary psychological stress to serious physical health conditions. 

But how do we know if our shortness of breath is rooted in anxiety or if it’s a harbinger of something more significant? The key lies in observation and understanding. Anxiety-induced shortness of breath often occurs in the absence of physical exertion and is usually accompanied by other symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, or a sense of impending doom. It tends to peak and then gradually subside, often improving with relaxation techniques or distraction.

To determine if shortness of breath stems from anxiety, we need to pay attention to other symptoms and their occurrences. Breathlessness linked to anxiety usually emerges without the need for physical effort and is often paired with other anxiety markers, including:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feelings of dread or panic
  • Lightheadedness

These symptoms generally surface in response to stressors or anxious thoughts and may not align with the physical activities you are engaged in.

How Long Do Anxiety Attacks Last?

The good news is anxiety attacks, also referred to as panic attacks, are typically short-lived. These intense episodes of fear usually hit their highest intensity within 10 minutes and begin to diminish in the following 20 to 30 minutes. However, it’s not uncommon to experience some lingering effects even after the peak of the attack has passed.

Here are some reasons you might feel odd or unsettled after a panic attack:

  • Physical Exhaustion: Panic attacks are physically demanding on the body. The intense fear and the surge of adrenaline can leave you feeling tired, weak, or exhausted once the attack subsides. It’s similar to how you might feel after a strenuous physical activity.
  • Emotional Drain: Apart from the physical toll, panic attacks can be emotionally draining. Experiencing such intense fear and anxiety can leave you feeling vulnerable, shaken, or emotionally drained, which might contribute to feeling strange afterward.
  • Hypervigilance: After a panic attack, you might become overly aware of your bodily sensations and any changes in your emotional state, fearing another attack. This heightened state of alertness can make you feel on edge or weird.
  • Chemical Changes: Panic attacks involve a rush of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. After the attack, as these hormone levels start to normalize, you might experience a range of feelings, from relief to confusion or even disorientation.
  • Cognitive Effects: The intense fear and stress of a panic attack can temporarily cloud your thinking or affect your concentration. This might leave you feeling foggy, detached, or surreal, often described as feeling “out of it” or “not fully there.”
  • Relief and Processing: After the peak of a panic attack passes, you might feel a mixture of relief and the need to process what happened. This can lead to a period of introspection or rumination, which might make you feel introspective or disconnected from your surroundings.

It’s important to understand that these feelings are a normal part of the recovery process from a panic attack. However, if you find that these feelings are persistent or if you’re struggling with frequent panic attacks, it will be helpful to seek support from a healthcare professional like Platinum Psychiatry. Our team can provide strategies to manage panic attacks and help with the after-effects, ensuring you’re equipped to handle them more effectively in the future.

Knowing the Difference: Anxiety or Something Else?

It’s pretty common to feel breathless when you’re anxious, but it’s also important to know when this might be a sign of something else. Conditions like asthma, heart issues, lung problems, and even infections like COVID-19 can also make it hard to breathe. Here are some signs that it might not be just anxiety:

  • You’re short of breath a lot, and it doesn’t seem to be linked to feeling anxious.
  • You have trouble breathing when you’re doing everyday activities or even when you’re just chilling out and not feeling anxious at the time.
  • You also have chest pain, a fever, or a cough that just won’t go away.

If any of these sound familiar, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor to figure out what’s going on.

Tips for Controlling Anxiety Attacks

If anxiety is making it hard for you to breathe, there are some things you can try to feel better:

  • Deep Breathing: This is all about taking slow, deep breaths to help calm your body down. It’s the opposite of the quick, shallow breaths that come with anxiety attacks. Deep breathing has been shown to directly impact heart rate.
  • Questioning Anxious Thoughts: Sometimes, our minds jump to the worst conclusions. Learning to spot these thoughts and asking ourselves if they’re really true can help reduce anxiety.
  • Finding Your Chill: Making time for activities that help you relax, like yoga, meditation, or just some quiet time, can make a big difference in how anxious you feel overall. Grounding techniques are also a great way to relax.
  • Moving Your Body: Exercise isn’t just good for your body; it’s great for your mind too. It can help lower anxiety and boost your mood. Stretch, take a walk, or just move around to preoccupy your mind from racing thoughts.
  • Getting Help: If anxiety is really interfering with your life, seeking help from a mental health professional can be a huge help. They can equip you with effective strategies to cope with your anxiety and help you devise a sustainable plan tailored to your needs. This plan might include therapy, medication, adjustments in your lifestyle, or a blend of these approaches to ensure you find the balance and support you need.

Finding the Path Forward

By paying attention to what else is going on when you feel this way and how long your anxiety attacks last, you can get a better idea of what’s happening. While trying out these strategies to manage anxiety can make a big difference, if you’re ever unsure or if things don’t seem to be getting better, reaching out to a healthcare professional is the best move. Platinum Psychiatry stands ready to offer expert guidance and support, ensuring you receive care that is specifically tailored to your needs. Remember, recognizing your body’s signals and seeking help when necessary is a big part of taking care of your mental well-being.