Hyperventilation And Anxiety: How Are They Related?

It is not asthma. You feel choking, your lungs don’t react and the whole world spins in your eyes … If you’ve hyperventilated in the past because of anxiety, you know how it feels. Today, we want to talk about how hyperventilation and anxiety relate to each other, and what strategies you can use to better adapt to such situations.
Hyperventilation and Anxiety: How Are They Related?

Breathing difficulties, increased heart rate, dizziness, numbness, feeling of pressure in the chest, fear… Hyperventilation and anxiety are perhaps two independent symptoms, but there is a direct and often even stormy bond between them.  Shortness of breath and the feeling that the lungs are not getting oxygen is a frightening feeling and in turn a direct effect of these psychological disorders. However, we are not always aware of the latter.

Not everyone associates a sudden feeling of suffocation with anxiety. Most commonly, many of us may think we have asthma or some other heart or breathing problem. However, if we suffer from these symptoms, which is why we seek emergency care or a doctor’s appointment, and yet all possible physical and organic factors are ruled out, a truly confused feeling remains. How, then, can anxiety manifest in such a painful way?

We may forget that this mechanism, which predicts external and internal stimuli, is directly related to respiration. The priority in situations that cause us anxiety is that we respond to it; to relieve anxiety, the heart speeds up and the amount of oxygen received by the muscles increases. The goal is simple: either we fight or we escape.

Hyperventilation is not a disease.  It is not serious and it does not endanger our lives. It is the result of anxiety and often manifests itself in panic disorder. Let’s take a closer look.

Not everyone associates a sudden feeling of suffocation with anxiety

Hyperventilation and anxiety: symptoms, characteristics and key factors in its management

Anxiety is one of the clinical images that includes the most physiological symptoms. Thus, various studies, such as those from studies at the University of Health Sciences in Chicago Medical School, tell us that high sensitivity to anxiety is in many cases a risk factor for panic attacks and, consequently, hyperventilation.

However, it is important to note that hyperventilation or dyspnea may be associated with other changes in addition to emotional factors. For example, asthma, emphysema, or other lung diseases may explain this sudden attack, which makes normal breathing difficult. Whatever the situation, it would be best to always consult a doctor for a proper medical diagnosis and thus treatment.

Why do we hyperventilate when we suffer from anxiety?

Hyperventilation occurs when breathing escapes beyond the body’s own needs. This happens when we face stressful situations or when anxiety begins to take on high and uncontrollable proportions. In this case, we do not realize that we are breathing too fast, resulting in decompensation in which the imbalance between breathing and the body’s own needs changes everything.

  • In hyperventilation, the balance between O2 (oxygen) and CO2 (carbon dioxide) changes.
  • This sudden decrease in CO2 in the blood results in the brain seeing the change as a threat.
  • In this situation, the goal of the brain is to stabilize the situation by reducing inhaled O2 levels and exhaled CO2 levels as quickly as possible.
  • So how do our brains succeed in that? By reducing the need to breathe, of course. In other words, our brains give our bodies the command to reduce the density of breathing. For this reason, there is also a feeling that we are on the verge of suffocation.
  • When we try to breathe in our desperation, the body at the same time reduces the operation of this mechanism, which in turn intensifies panic and despair.

While it is true that hyperventilation is not serious and no one has lost their breath because of it, we are still talking about scary situations that no one certainly wants to face in their lives.

Hyperventilation and anxiety: what are the symptoms?

Hyperventilation and anxiety have a very close relationship. When our emotional burden is high, the body responds to it in many cases through a stronger physiological response.

The most complicated situation in these situations, however, is that facing a panic attack or hyperventilation results in these events only increasing fear and anxiety. In many cases, the symptoms associated with these situations include:

  • Anxiety-induced hyperventilation, which usually lasts for 20 minutes.
  • Significant physical tension and emotional anxiety.
  • The feeling that you are not able to breathe properly and that you are practically short of breath. Gradually, this symptom is followed by a greater feeling of suffocation.
  • The feeling that the heart is beating hard and fast.
  • Tingling in the hands, feet and around the mouth.
  • The feeling that everything is unreal.
  • Dizziness and tunnel vision.
  • Perspiration.
  • Headache and possibility of fainting or loss of consciousness.
Many of us are unaware that hyperventilation and anxiety and their associated physiological symptoms often go hand in hand.

What can be done during hyperventilation?

When we talk about hyperventilation and anxiety, it is common to imagine almost immediately a person breathing a paper bag in front of the mouth. While it is true that this technology works as a good strategy, it is important that we take other aspects into account in this frightening but fortunately harmless situation.

  • Hyperventilation is not a disease, but a symptom whose origin we need to find out. The exclusion of physiological and organic factors is the first step.
  • If anxiety causes hyperventilation and panic attacks, it is important that we find out the factors that trigger these symptoms.
  • In these cases, cognitive behavioral therapy, rational-emotional therapy, cognitive therapy aimed at treating hyperventilation, or EMDR ( Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing ) therapy can provide us with good results in many cases.
  • On the other hand, during hyperventilation, it is important to focus on breathing.
  • If we breathe too fast, the feeling of suffocation is greater. For this reason, the lungs must be prevented from receiving oxygen too quickly.
  • Breathing through your lips as if you were blowing out a candle to extinguish can also help.
  • We can also try the following strategy: cover one’s nose and breathe only with the other. This is an effective way to make your breathing level.

Finally, we can always resort to the classic solution we mentioned earlier, the bag. This strategy consists of covering your mouth and nose with a bag that will help you achieve more rhythmic breathing and thus a more balanced level of CO2. In any case, the most essential thing would always be to investigate the trigger for anxiety and treat this original cause.

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