How to Tell If Shortness of Breath is from Anxiety?

Written by Hexahealth Care Team, last updated on 5 June 2023
How to Tell If Shortness of Breath is from Anxiety?

Shortness of breath is a common symptom experienced by many people and can be caused by anxiety or other medical conditions. It's important to know what's causing your shortness of breath so you can get the right treatment. This article will explore how to tell if shortness of breath is from anxiety.

We will discuss the signs and symptoms that may indicate it's coming from an anxious state and share some tips for managing your breathing during high stress or distress. We'll also look at when to seek medical help and different types of therapies that could help manage your anxiety-related breathing difficulties.

By understanding more about how anxiety causes shortness of breath, you'll be better equipped with the knowledge needed to address this problem effectively to improve overall wellness and quality of life.

Relation between Anxiety and Shortness of Breath

Anxiety and shortness of breath are closely related. When a person experiences anxiety, the body's fight-or-flight response is activated, leading to increased heart and breathing rates.

This causes an individual to take shallow breaths that don't fill their lungs with air, resulting in shortness of breath. 

In addition, when anxious, individuals may experience chest tightness or difficulty exhaling fully due to the rapid breathing pattern associated with anxiety. 

As a result, they can feel suffocated or unable to catch their breath, further intensifying anxiety.

Furthermore, excessive worrying about being unable to breathe properly can create a vicious cycle wherein the physical symptoms worsen due to the mental distress they produce.

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Understanding Shortness of Breath Due To Anxiety

Shortness of breath caused by anxiety will typically be accompanied by other symptoms such as rapid heart rate, dizziness, chest tightness, and a feeling of impending doom. It is also possible to have shortness of breath without other physical symptoms. 

Other medical conditions that cause shortness of breath may include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure (CHF), or pneumonia.

If the person experiences wheezing or coughing when they try to take a deep breath, they must seek immediate medical attention as these are signs of an underlying condition. 

Understanding the difference between anxiety-induced shortness of breath and other medical conditions is essential for proper diagnosis and treatment.

A doctor can perform tests such as a chest X-ray and breathing tests to diagnose the cause. They may also ask questions about lifestyle patterns such as smoking, which could sometimes indicate COPD or CHF.

Common Triggers of Anxiety-Induced Shortness of Breath

Suppose you've experienced the distressing sensation of shortness of breath, accompanied by a racing heart, sweaty palms, and a sense of impending doom.

You may have been dealing with anxiety-induced shortness of breath in that case. 

Want to know how to tell if shortness of breath is from anxiety? Check out these triggers:

  1. Panic Attacks: Panic attacks are among the most common triggers for anxiety-induced shortness of breath. Symptoms can include sudden intense fear and worry or physical symptoms such as:
    1. heart palpitations
    2. chest pain
    3. tightness, dizziness, sweating, and trembling.
  2. Stressful Situations: Stressful situations can also trigger anxiety-induced shortness of breath due to increased adrenaline production, which causes faster breathing with more shallow breaths that don't get enough oxygen into your body.

    These situations may include:

    1. Public speaking engagements

    2. Job interviews, exams

    3. Any other situation that raises feelings of stress and/or anxiety.

  3. Overwhelming Thoughts: It is not uncommon for individuals who suffer from anxiety disorders to experience overwhelming thoughts that lead to cognitive paralysis. 

    1. Cognitive paralysis is the mental and emotional freeze or overwhelms that can exacerbate shortness of breath in anxiety.

      They struggle to make decisions or move forward due to their racing thoughts about worst-case scenarios. 

    2. This can cause shallow breathing leading to difficulty getting sufficient oxygen during these episodes, thus causing the person's breathing rate to become quicker than normal, leading them into a state of panic and potentially triggering an episode of shortness of breath due to lack thereof adequate air intake.

  4. Stimulants: Caffeine is one example, but many other stimulants, such as nicotine found in cigarettes and even certain medications used for treating ADHD, could act as a trigger for people with anxious tendencies by inducing hyperventilation. 
    1. ADHD stands for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by symptoms such as inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity that can impact daily functioning. 
    2. Rapid inhalation is followed shortly after that by exhalation at a much higher rate than normal, resulting in less oxygen per breath, making it more difficult for the individual's body to remain stable while under stress.

Detecting Shortness of Breath from Anxiety

Anxiety can manifest itself in many different ways, including shortness of breath. If you suspect your anxiety is causing you to experience this symptom, you can take a few steps to detect it. 

Are you wondering how to tell if shortness of breath is from anxiety? Here are a few means to check the severity of the situation:

  1. Monitor your Breathing: Pay close attention to how you are breathing and how it changes when feeling anxious or stressed.

    Shallow, rapid breaths indicate that the body is not getting enough oxygen, leading to feelings of shortness of breath. 
  2. Recognize Symptoms: It is important to catch them early to avail effective treatment plans to help manage the shortness of breath. All these symptoms may be accompanied by shortness of breath as well. 
  3. Check your Heart Rate: A fast heartbeat and shortness of breath are common symptoms associated with anxiety attacks.

    Keeping track of your heart rate during periods of stress can help determine if anxiety is causing shortness of breath or something else, such as allergies or asthma flare-ups at play.
  4. Keep a Journal: Document any episodes where you experience difficulty breathing due to anxiety so that patterns become more distinguishable over time (e.g., noticing what activities trigger an increase in respiration).

    Additionally, tracking things like diet, exercise routine, and sleep schedule while noting any accompanying feelings can be helpful too! 
  5. Visit Your Doctor: If all other methods fail, then visiting a doctor for further evaluation may be necessary, including blood tests or imaging scans, depending on what they find from their physical examination and history review process.

Coping Strategies for Shortness of Breath Caused by Anxiety

When anxiety triggers shortness of breath, it can be distressing. However, there are some coping strategies that may help manage this symptom. Let’s explore practical techniques to alleviate anxiety-induced shortness of breath, empowering you to take control of your breathing and well-being.

Self-Care Techniques

Self-care techniques can help you in overcoming the shortness of breath caused by anxiety. Here are the best self-care techniques to take up:

  1. Deep Breathing: Practicing slow, deep breaths can help regulate breathing patterns, calm the nervous system, and alleviate shortness of breath associated with anxiety.
  2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Tensing and releasing different muscle groups can reduce muscle tension and promote relaxation, helping to alleviate anxiety-induced shortness of breath.
  3. Grounding Techniques: Engaging the senses by focusing on the present moment through techniques like mindfulness, using sensory objects, or practicing grounding exercises can help reduce anxiety and ease breathing difficulties.
  4. Cognitive Behavioral Techniques: Identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and beliefs associated with anxiety can help manage cognitive paralysis and improve breathing patterns.
  5. Self-Care Routine: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, sufficient sleep, balanced nutrition, and stress reduction techniques like meditation, journaling, or yoga for anxiety can support overall well-being.

Breathing Exercises

Below are some of the best breathing exercises that help copy the shortness of breath caused by anxiety.

  1. Diaphragmatic Breathing: Also known as belly breathing, it involves inhaling deeply through the nose, allowing the diaphragm to expand, and exhaling slowly through the mouth to promote relaxation and reduce shortness of breath.
  2. Pursed Lip Breathing: Inhale deeply through the nose, then exhale slowly through pursed lips like blowing out a candle, which can help control breathing rate and decrease breathlessness.
  3. 4-7-8 Breathing: Inhale through the nose for a count of 4, hold the breath for 7 counts, and exhale through the mouth for 8 counts to regulate breathing and reduce anxiety-related shortness of breath.
  4. Alternate Nostril Breathing: Using the thumb and index finger, close one nostril while inhaling through the other, then alternate nostrils while exhaling, which can help balance airflow and calm the nervous system.
  5. Box Breathing: Inhale through the nose for a count of 4, hold the breath for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, and hold for 4 counts, creating a square pattern of breath to promote relaxation and alleviate shortness of breath.

Best Natural Remedies You Can Try

If you're looking for natural ways to alleviate anxiety-induced shortness of breath, there are several remedies to consider. Best natural remedies to help manage anxiety-related breathing difficulties, empowering you to breathe easier and feel more relaxed.

If you know how to tell if shortness of breath is from anxiety, you can try a bunch of natural remedies to relieve your symptoms.

  1. Aromatherapy: Essential oils such as lavender oil have been known to have calming effects on individuals experiencing anxiety-induced shortness of breath, allowing them to take deeper breaths without feeling overwhelmed or panicked.

    You can use any essential oil diffuser or simply inhale directly from the bottle several times daily whenever you feel your breath getting shallow during an anxiety attack.
  2. Herbal teas: Some specific herbal teas, such as chamomile tea, have calming properties that can naturally reduce feelings of anxiousness throughout the body, including regulating respiration rate resulting in more accessible and more profound breathes rather than shallow ones associated with an attack/episode brought about by heightened levels of emotions/stressors etcetera. 
  3. Meditation and Mindfulness Practice: Add mindful breathing into one's routine - focusing intently on each inhale /exhale for 10-15 minutes (or longer), allowing one's awareness to rest upon their current experience without judgment, thus allowing space within oneself where clarity resides aiding relaxation thereby alleviating feelings associated with panic/anxiety attacks.

Lifestyle Changes You Must Make

If anxiety-induced shortness of breath impacts your daily life, making certain lifestyle changes can be beneficial. There are some practical strategies for managing anxiety-related breathing difficulties through lifestyle adjustments, empowering you to improve your respiratory symptoms and overall well-being.

After knowing if you have anxiety and trouble breathing all day, you need to make a few changes in your lifestyle that might help you get past the situation.

  1. Reduce Caffeine Intake: Consuming too much caffeine can increase your heart rate and cause shortness of breath due to anxiety. Reduce your intake or cut it out altogether. 
  2. Exercise Regularly: Regular exercise has been linked to improved mental health, which can, in turn, reduce stress and anxiety levels that may lead to shortness of breath.

    Ensure you have a balanced exercise routine incorporating aerobic activity (like jogging) and strength training (like weightlifting). 
  3. Change your Diet: Eating healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and nuts/seeds can help manage symptoms of anxiety-induced shortness of breath by providing calming nutrients such as magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids.

    Avoiding processed foods is also beneficial for overall health and mental wellness! 
  4. Practice Relaxation Techniques: Take time to practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises or mindfulness meditation, which can help alleviate feelings of anxiousness while decreasing one's heart rate-thus helping prevent shortness of breath from occurring due to high levels of stress/anxiety. 
  5. Get Adequate Sleep: Lack of sleep disrupts our hormones and puts us at risk for physical ailments, including difficulty breathing due to high cortisol levels (the stress hormone).

    Aim for 7-8 hours each night on average so that you are well-rested enough o tackle the day ahead without feeling overwhelmed and triggering breathing difficulties associated with anxiety attacks.


In conclusion, it is essential to understand how to tell if shortness of breath is from anxiety. Look for rapid heart rate, tightness in the chest, sweating or shaking hands, dizziness or lightheadedness, difficulty speaking or swallowing, and a feeling of panic.

If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, the cause of your shortness of breath is likely due to anxiety.It is crucial to seek help from a medical professional if you experience any warning signs, as they can provide advice and treatment options tailored to your needs.

There are ways you can know how to tell shortness of breath is from anxiety. Indeed, shortness of breath due to anxiety can be a frightening experience.

With HexaHealth, you don't have to go through it alone. Our experts help you find the best specialist for your particular issue and provide the support you need. Connect with us today and take the first step towards feeling better! Schedule an appointment now, and let us help you relieve shortness of breath anxiety and get back on track!

Suggested Reads

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Homeopathic Medicine for Anxiety How to Reduce Anxiety Immediately
Home Remedies for Anxiety Treatment Panic Attack Vs Anxiety Attack

Frequently Asked Questions

How to tell if shortness of breath is from anxiety?

Anxiety and shortness of breath are often accompanied by other symptoms such as chest tightness, increased heart rate, and dizziness. Also, when experiencing shortness of breath from anxiety, it can be hard to take deep breaths, and the feeling will usually worsen during moments of stress or panic. To determine if shortness of breath is caused by anxiety or a physical issue, it's important to consult with a doctor for an evaluation.

How do anxiety and shortness of breath relate?

Anxiety can cause shortness of breath due to hyperventilation or a panic attack. This is caused by the body's "fight or flight" response, which may increase breathing rate and shallow breaths.

Does anxiety cause shortness of breath?

Yes, anxiety causes shortness of breath. Anxiety can lead to hyperventilation when someone breathes too quickly and shallowly.
This rapid breathing reduces the amount of oxygen in the lungs and causes a feeling of being unable to take a deep breath. It is also common for people with anxiety to experience chest tightness or pain that worsens their difficulty breathing.

What are the common symptoms of anxiety-induced shortness of breath?

Understanding the common symptoms will allow us to determine the shortness of breath due to anxiety. Common symptoms of anxiety-induced shortness of breath include tightness in the chest, rapid or shallow breathing, feeling like you can't get enough air, difficulty focusing on anything other than your breath, and lightheadedness.
It can also cause a sense of panic or fear. Physical symptoms may include:

  1. increased heart rate
  2. sweating
  3. trembling
  4. shaking nausea
  5. headaches.

Why does anxiety cause shortness of breath?

Anxiety can induce shortness of breath due to the body's "fight or flight" response. When anxious, the body releases hormones that increase heart rate and breathing speed, resulting in shallow breaths. This can lead to feelings of chest tightness or difficulty getting enough air.

How can someone differentiate between shortness of breath caused by anxiety and other medical conditions?

A medical professional should be consulted when differentiating between shortness of breath caused by anxiety and other medical conditions. Symptoms such as chest pain, coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing that occur with the shortness of breath can help to determine what is causing the symptom. Other tests that may aid in diagnosis include a physical exam and bloodwork to check for underlying health issues like asthma or heart disease.


What are some common triggers of anxiety-induced shortness of breath?

Common triggers of anxiety-induced shortness of breath can include:

  1. stressful situations
  2. unhelpful thoughts
  3. physical activities
  4. extreme temperatures
  5. panic attacks
  6. cardiovascular diseases
  7. asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  8. feeling overwhelmed
  9. having a fear of large crowds

Other potential triggers could be certain medications or substances like nicotine and caffeine.

Can anxiety-induced shortness of breath lead to serious complications?

Yes, anxiety-induced shortness of breath can lead to serious complications. Anxiety can cause hyperventilation, which leads to a decrease in the body's oxygen supply and an increase in carbon dioxide levels. This imbalance can lead to:

  1. dizziness
  2. chest pain
  3. heart palpitations
  4. fainting.

If left untreated for an extended period, it may cause permanent damage due to a lack of oxygen flow throughout the body.

How long can anxiety-induced shortness of breath last?

Yes, anxiety-induced shortness of breath can lead to serious complications depending on the severity and length of the duration. Anxiety-induced shortness of breath can sometimes last from a few minutes to several hours or longer.
It is crucial for those who experience this symptom to seek medical attention if it persists for an extended period or worsens over time. Additionally, having regular checkups with your doctor may help identify any underlying medical conditions contributing to your symptoms.

What are the ways to manage anxiety-induced shortness of breath?

  1. Deep breathing exercises: Focus on taking slow, deep breaths and counting your inhales and exhales. 
  2. Meditation: Relax your mind and body by focusing on a single thought or activity. 
  3. Mindfulness activities: Practice being mindful of the present moment, paying attention to bodily sensations without judgment or expectation. 
  4. Exercise: Physical activity can help reduce anxiety symptoms such as shortness of breath by releasing endorphins that make you feel better overall. 
  5. Talk therapy: Speaking with a therapist can help identify the root causes of anxiety-induced shortness of breath and develop strategies for managing it more effectively over time.

What are the techniques for reducing anxiety and managing shortness of breath?

  1. Practice deep and slow breathing- take a deep breath in through your nose while slowly counting to 4, then breathe out slowly through your mouth while counting to 8. 
  2. Learn relaxation exercises- such as progressive muscle relaxation or mindfulness meditation.
  3. Talk to someone about your feelings- talking can help manage stress levels and find better ways of dealing with difficult situations.
  4. Regular exercise helps reduce stress hormones and release endorphins, which are natural painkillers. 
  5. Making time for leisure activities- such as listening to music, reading a book, or engaging in creative hobbies like painting or crafting can help relax the mind and body alike!

Can medication be helpful for anxiety-induced shortness of breath?

Yes, medication can be helpful for anxiety-induced shortness of breath. Anxiety medications, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or benzodiazepines, may help reduce anxiety symptoms and their associated physical effects.
Some antihistamines have also been found to help relax the airways and alleviate breathing difficulty caused by anxiety. However, it is crucial to consult a doctor before taking any medications to relieve anxiety-induced shortness of breath.


What lifestyle changes can help alleviate anxiety-induced shortness of breath?

To help alleviate anxiety-induced shortness of breath, it is essential to make lifestyle changes such as reducing stress levels, exercising regularly, eating healthy meals, and avoiding stimulants like caffeine and nicotine. Additionally, engaging in relaxation activities such as deep breathing exercises or yoga can help diminish the symptoms of anxiety-related shortness of breath. Mindfulness practices and positive self-talk can also be helpful tools for managing anxious thoughts.

How can one prevent anxiety-induced shortness of breath from occurring in the first place?

One way to prevent anxiety-induced shortness of breath is by practicing deep breathing exercises to reduce stress and relieve tension. Additionally, relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga can help keep your body relaxed and manage any anxious thoughts that may arise.
Finally, seeking professional assistance from a therapist or medical doctor is also beneficial.

Are there any natural remedies to alleviate anxiety-induced shortness of breath?

Yes, a few natural remedies can help alleviate anxiety-induced shortness of breath. Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation techniques, mindfulness meditation, and yoga can all reduce anxiety and its associated physical symptoms.
Additionally, herbs like chamomile or lavender may also provide some relief. Finally, engaging in regular physical activity has been shown to decrease stress levels which can help reduce the effects of anxiety on your body.

What is the connection between anxiety and breathing difficulties?

Anxiety and breathing difficulties are closely connected. When an individual is anxious, they can experience rapid and shallow breathing, which can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, chest pain, or the feeling of being unable to breathe.
This anxiety-induced breathlessness has been linked to an overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system that causes difficulty in controlling one's respiration rate. Anxiety can also trigger other physical reactions, such as hyperventilation or panic attacks that further contribute to difficulty breathing.

Can breathing exercises help reduce anxiety-induced shortness of breath?

Yes, breathing exercises can help reduce anxiety-induced shortness of breath. Deep and slow breathing techniques are important to calm the mind and relax the body. Practicing these techniques a few times daily can help mitigate stress levels and improve overall well-being.
Additionally, some yoga poses focusing on mindful breathing be effective at lowering anxiety-related symptoms such as shortness of breath.

How can a mental health professional help with anxiety-induced shortness of breath?

A mental health professional can help manage anxiety-induced shortness of breath through cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and mindfulness, or medication.
They will work with the individual to develop a plan that works best for them to reduce their symptoms' frequency and severity.

When should someone seek medical attention for anxiety-induced shortness of breath?

If someone is experiencing shortness of breath due to anxiety and it persists beyond a few minutes, they should seek medical attention.
Additionally, if the symptoms are accompanied by chest pain or tightness, difficulty breathing even while resting, or fainting spells, an evaluation by a healthcare provider is recommended.


All the articles on HexaHealth are supported by verified medically-recognized sources such as; peer-reviewed academic research papers, research institutions, and medical journals. Our medical reviewers also check references of the articles to prioritize accuracy and relevance. Refer to our detailed editorial policy for more information.

  1. Elmer J. How Anxiety Can Cause Shortness of Breath and What You Can Do [Internet]. Healthline. Healthline Media;
  2. Anxiety and shortness of breath: Causes, symptoms, and treatments [Internet]. link
  3. Home Remedies for Shortness of Breath [Internet].
  4. Anxiety: Breathing Problems and Exercises [Internet]. Healthline.
  5. 6 Anxiety Breathing Symptoms and How to Stop Them [Internet]. Real Life Counseling. 2018. link

Updated on : 5 June 2023


About Authors

HexaHealth Care Team

HexaHealth Care Team brings you medical content covering many important conditions, procedures falling under different medical specialities. The content published is thoroughly reviewed by our panel of qualified doctors for its accuracy and relevance.

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