Dealing With Anxiety Symptoms: Shortness of Breath

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Shortness of breath is when you feel you cannot get enough air. You may feel as if your breathing is forced, labored or that you are having a hard time catching your breath. You may feel as if you must force yourself to breath, feel as if you are suffocating or you may be afraid of dying from not breathing.

Feeling as if you cannot breath can become a trigger to a panic attack, the fear of not being able to breath can cause your heart to beat faster, cause you to feel dizzy or make you feel as if you are going to faint. Being short of breath can be the first sign of a panic attack beginning or could be a trigger, causing a panic attack.

When shortness of breath is caused by anxiety, it may be because you are breathing incorrectly and therefore not taking in an adequate supply of oxygen. Deep breathing is needed to give your body the oxygen it needs. When you hyperventilate (take shallow breaths, breathing short, quick breaths), you are limiting the airflow to your lungs. This can contribute to shortness of breath.

Medical Causes for Shortness of Breath

There are a number of medical conditions that can cause someone to feel short of breath. If you are experiencing this symptom, it is important to talk with your doctor and be checked for underlying medical conditions.

Some of the medical conditions that may contribute or cause shortness of breath:

  • Problems in the lungs, such as blockage of the airways, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), asthma, or scarring in the lungs

  • Anemia

  • Heart problems

  • Sinus problems

  • Gastroesophageal reflux

  • Rapid weight gain

  • Lack of exercise, out of shape

If there is an underlying medical condition, being treated can help to eliminate the shortness of breath.

Treatment for Shortness of Breat

If your shortness of breath is caused by a physical illness, treatment should be based on that illness. For example, if asthma is causing the symptoms, you may have a quick acting inhaler or other asthma medication.

If shortness of breath has been caused by hyperventilating, purse your lips and breath. This is similar to the action used to blow out a candle. You can also cover your mouth and one nostril and blow out of the open nostril.

In addition, deep-breathing exercises can help. Incorporating these exercises into your daily routine may help with reducing anxiety symptoms overall.


"Shortness of Breath: Patient Education Guide", 2006, American College of Chest Physicians

"Shortness of Breath", 2008, July 27, Rod Brouhard,

"Shortness of Breath", 2009, American Academy of Family Physicians

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.