Approximately 30% of North American adults suffer from an anxiety disorder. An even higher percentage have isolated anxiety attacks at some point in their lives. Anxiety can cause chest pain, an accelerated heart rate, a feeling of weakness or tingling, lightheadedness, and vertigo. These sensations can feel like a heart attack. Surprisingly, anxiety-induced shallow breathing frequently causes these symptoms.
What Is Shallow Breathing?
Also known as hyperventilation, shallow breathing is when a person takes small, short breaths. Humans developed this reaction as part of a survival instinct. Along with rapid heart rate, this is the body’s way of amping up oxygen intake to promote a more effective “fight or flight” state.
What to Do When Hyperventilation Hits
Here are two easy methods to control your breathing when anxiety starts to creep in:
- Deep breaths. By filling the lungs all the way and allowing time for an oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange, the body can stave off the oncoming attack. Do this in a quiet space while you are seated or reclining. The recommendations are that you breathe in through through the nose and exhale slowly through the mouth.
- Relaxing breaths. This is a great method to calm your nerves. You should do it in a seated straight-back position. Press your tongue to the roof of your mouth, just behind your upper teeth. Take a breath in through your nose for a count of four. Next, continue to hold the breath for a count of seven. Next, breathe out through the mouth—around your tongue—for a count of eight. The inhale is silent, while the exhale makes a swishing noise. Repeat four times for maximum effect.
Remember to check with your doctor if your anxiety or shallow breathing persists. Underlying issues, such as high blood pressure, can contribute to these symptoms. In turn, untreated anxiety attacks can have a detrimental impact on a person’s immune system. With guidance from your medical professional and these easy breathing techniques, you’ll be well on your way to bypassing stress and anxiety symptoms.