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Does Anxiety Cause Shortness of Breath?

December 15, 2021

You just finished 45 minutes of exercise, and you’re sweaty and a bit tired. That’s normal. A cool towel and break normally helps, but what doesn’t seem right is shortness of breath. That normally doesn’t happen, and if it continues unabated even without strenuous activity, you may be suffering from dyspnea.


Anxiety is a feeling of fear, dread, and uneasiness. It might cause you to sweat, feel restless and tense, and have a rapid heartbeat. It can be a normal reaction to stress. For example, you might feel anxious when faced with a difficult problem at work, before taking a test, or before making an important decision. It can help you to cope.” Long-term symptoms like fear that become overwhelming could be signs of anxiety disorder.


Few phenomena are as terrifying as being unable to get enough air. Shortness of breath — also called dyspnea in medical literature — is frequently described “as an intense tightening in the chest, air hunger, difficulty breathing, breathlessness or a feeling of suffocation.”

Very vigorous exercise, high temperatures, obesity, and high altitudes all can result in shortness of breath in someone who’s healthy. Beyond these, shortness of breath may be a warning of a serious medical problem.


According to Dr. Zeenat Safdar, pulmonologist at Houston Methodist Lung Center, shortness of breath is felt mainly in the chest. Because it’s normally an effortless process, breathing that requires a conscious effort “can be frightening, especially if you’ve never experienced it before.”

It can make you feel like you’re trying to catch your breath, like you need to breathe more often faster, like you can’t breathe deeply, and have a sensation of huffiness and puffiness.


Shortness of breath, also known medically as dyspnea, isn’t an uncommon symptom of anxiety, and, in fact, it could have many potential causes, including:

  • Panic attacks. These often last 10 to 30 minutes.
  • Allergic reactions.
  • Asthma. Reduction of the airways triggered by asthma can make it seem hard to breathe.
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • COVID-19.
  • Heart attack.
  • Heart failure. If your heart fails, blood can’t fill and empty the organ properly. This situation may result in fluid accumulating in your lungs, making it seem hard to breathe.
  • Pneumonia is an infection that inflames your lungs’ air sacs (alveoli). The air sacs may fill up with fluid or pus, causing symptoms such as a cough, fever, chills and trouble breathing.”
  • Something as serious as a collapsed lung.
  • A blood clot in an artery in the lung.
  • Sudden blood loss.
  • An object is blocking your breathing passage.
  • Worsening symptoms related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • Croup. “It causes swelling in the upper part of the airway in the neck. It causes a barking cough, with or without fever. And it may cause problems with breathing. The illness is seen more often in the winter.”
  • Lung cancer.
  • Other lung conditions, including excess fluid and scarred or damaged lungs.
  • Sarcoidosis (groups of inflammatory cells in your body).
  • Heart failure.
  • Anxiety or mood disorders.
  • Broken ribs.
  • You’re choking on something.

If you experience repeated episodes of shortness of breath, it’s advisable to see a healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment.


If you suffer from shortness of breath and seek medical attention, your healthcare provider may first help you identify the symptoms and then recommend a course of treatment. Depending on any underlying conditions and how serious your shortness of breath has become, your treatment may include:

  • Ketamine therapy.
  • Bettering your physical fitness through exercise could reinforce your heart and lungs. Improved overall health may help you feel less out of breath when exercising. Even with breathing difficulties, cardiovascular therapy might help. Your doctor might also recommend that you try breathing techniques.
  • Certain inhaled medications can ease your airways in the case of asthma and other conditions and relieve some discomfort related to anxiety.
  • Getting extra oxygen via “a mask or tube in the nostrils can help you breathe more comfortably. This is only appropriate when the blood oxygen level is measured by a healthcare professional and shown to be low.”


Shortness of breath may be expected in certain extenuating circumstances, like if you drank a liquid too quickly or choked on a piece of food. But if it happens often and has been going on for months, the best advice is to see a doctor. Depending on your symptoms and any underlying conditions, you may benefit from different therapy to relieve the discomfort related to anxiety, including meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, or even ketamine therapy. Contact us today to learn more!

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