How to Tell if Shortness of Breath Is from Anxiety

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Shortness of breath can be a distressing symptom that can have various underlying causes. One possible cause is anxiety, a common mental health condition that affects many people worldwide. This article aims to provide insights into how to differentiate whether shortness of breath is a result of anxiety or some other medical condition.

Understanding Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea, refers to the sensation of breathing difficulty or the feeling of not getting enough air. It can manifest as a tightening in the chest, rapid breathing, or shallow breaths. Shortness of breath can occur due to a variety of factors, including physical exertion, environmental factors, and medical conditions.

Symptoms of Shortness of Breath

Before exploring the connection between anxiety and shortness of breath, it’s important to understand the symptoms associated with this condition. Some common symptoms of shortness of breath include:

  1. Difficulty breathing or a feeling of air hunger.
  2. Rapid or shallow breathing.
  3. Tightness or discomfort in the chest.
  4. Wheezing or whistling sound during breathing.
  5. Lightheadedness or dizziness.

If you experience these symptoms, it’s crucial to assess the potential causes and seek appropriate medical advice.

Anxiety and Shortness of Breath

Anxiety can contribute to the sensation of shortness of breath. When someone experiences anxiety, their body’s stress response system activates, leading to a cascade of physical and psychological effects. One of these effects is the alteration of breathing patterns, resulting in hyperventilation or rapid shallow breathing.

See also  Does Medication for Anxiety and Depression Work?

Differentiating Anxiety-Induced Shortness of Breath

It can be challenging to differentiate whether shortness of breath is solely due to anxiety or caused by an underlying medical condition. However, there are a few key factors that can help distinguish anxiety-induced shortness of breath:

  1. Context: Shortness of breath triggered by anxiety often occurs during or following periods of heightened stress or panic attacks.
  2. Absence of Other Symptoms: If the shortness of breath occurs without any other noticeable physical symptoms or medical conditions, it could be more likely to be related to anxiety.
  3. Normalized Breathing with Relaxation: Anxiety-induced shortness of breath can often be alleviated or reduced through relaxation techniques and practicing deep, slow breathing.

Medical Conditions and Shortness of Breath

While anxiety can cause shortness of breath, it’s essential to consider other potential medical conditions that can manifest with similar symptoms. Some of these conditions include:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Allergies
  • Heart conditions
  • Respiratory infections

If you are unsure about the cause of your shortness of breath or if it persists or worsens, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper evaluation and diagnosis.

Seeking Medical Evaluation

If you experience persistent or recurrent shortness of breath, it’s important to seek medical evaluation to rule out any underlying medical conditions. A healthcare professional can conduct a thorough assessment, which may include physical examinations, diagnostic tests, and a comprehensive medical history review.

Managing Anxiety-Related Shortness of Breath

If anxiety is determined to be the cause of your shortness of breath, there are several strategies you can employ to manage this symptom effectively:

  1. Breathing Exercises: Practice deep breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing or pursed-lip breathing, to help regulate your breathing patterns and promote relaxation.
  2. Relaxation Techniques: Engage in activities that promote relaxation, such as meditation, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation. These techniques can help reduce anxiety and improve breathing.
  3. Lifestyle Changes: Adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, adequate sleep, a balanced diet, and stress management techniques. Maintaining overall well-being can contribute to reducing anxiety-related symptoms.
See also  Medication for Anxiety and Depression Without Weight Gain


Shortness of breath can be a distressing symptom, and it’s crucial to determine its underlying cause. While anxiety can contribute to this sensation, it’s important to rule out other potential medical conditions. By seeking appropriate medical evaluation and implementing strategies to manage anxiety, individuals can alleviate anxiety-related shortness of breath and improve their overall well-being.


Can anxiety cause long-term shortness of breath?

Yes, chronic anxiety can contribute to long-term or recurring episodes of shortness of breath. It’s essential to address the underlying anxiety to manage this symptom effectively.

Are there any medications specifically for anxiety-induced shortness of breath?

Medications for anxiety, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or benzodiazepines, can help manage anxiety symptoms, including shortness of breath. However, these medications should be prescribed by a healthcare professional.

What other symptoms might accompany anxiety-induced shortness of breath?

Anxiety-induced shortness of breath may be accompanied by symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, or feelings of impending doom.

Can shortness of breath due to anxiety be mistaken for a heart attack?

Yes, the symptoms of anxiety-induced shortness of breath can sometimes mimic those of a heart attack. It’s crucial to seek medical evaluation to rule out any potential cardiac issues.

Is shortness of breath always a sign of anxiety?

No, shortness of breath can have various causes, including medical conditions. It’s essential to consider the context and presence of other symptoms to determine the underlying cause accurately.

Dr. Emily Roberts is a licensed medical professional with a specialization in dermatology. With over 10 years of experience in the field, she's dedicated to sharing her knowledge on health, skincare, and beauty. Her articles provide actionable insights to help readers achieve healthy skin and overall well-being.

Leave a Comment