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What Is the Relationship between Hyperventilation and Anxiety?

By Jennifer Long
Updated May 17, 2024
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Hyperventilation and anxiety are typically found to occur together. Anxiety is a condition that causes panic attacks as a response to extreme stress. One of the most common symptoms of anxiety is hyperventilation. The attack causes breathing to become increasingly rapid, resulting in over-breathing. Breaths are short, which also increases the heart rate and reduces the amount of oxygen that is breathed in.

Anxiety attacks can cause a variety of problems. Breathing problems, such as hyperventilation, are common symptoms of these attacks. While anxiety attacks can be a direct cause of over-breathing, hyperventilation and anxiety are related in another way. The occurrence of hyperventilation during a panic attack can also add to the amount of anxiety experienced and can also increase the number of attacks that occur.

One of the common theories that relates hyperventilation and anxiety is the fight or flight response that most people have. This is an automatic response to extreme stress or fear. When triggered, the sufferer typically flees from the source or fights against it. Generally, people with anxiety disorder experience a heightened response. The smallest amount of stress or fear triggers an anxiety attack, which often leads to hyperventilation.

When hyperventilation and anxiety are related, signs of hyperventilation often coincide with signs of an anxiety attack. In addition to dizziness, tingling, and numbness of the mouth or arms, a sufferer may also experience trembling and an overwhelming sense of fear. Rapid heart rate is another symptom that can be experienced with both problems. In many panic attacks, patients often have shortness of breath and feel a tightening in the chest before hyperventilation begins.

Hyperventilation and anxiety have different methods of treatment. In order to reduce instances of hyperventilation, the anxiety disorder must be managed. Medications can help reduce the amount of panic attacks that occur. Sufferers can also learn techniques, such as meditation, that help reduce responses to fear and promote calmness. As the anxiety disorder begins to get under control, the sufferer can see the instances of hyperventilation start to lessen.

Although treatment can help manage hyperventilation and anxiety, attacks can still occur. In these instances, managing the hyperventilation can help shorten the severity and length of occurrences. Breathing techniques can be an effective way to get breathing back to normal. Slow, deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth are an effective technique. Some people also find relief from breathing into a paper bag.

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Discussion Comments

By myharley — On Oct 09, 2012

The first time you have a panic attack is kind of a strange experience, and the first time I hyperventilated was very unsettling to me. It can become like a vicious circle.

The more anxious I become, the more apt I am to hyperventilate. If I hyperventilate, the more anxious I am. I don't like taking prescription medications for my anxiety, so have tried to make some changes in my lifestyle instead.

I have found that exercise and meditation are both good for me. With the exercise I feel like my body is in control and when I meditate, I am better able to control my mind. A panic attack can come on very quickly, but if I feel like I am in control, I am more likely to not let it get the best of me.

By John57 — On Oct 09, 2012

When I was in college I remember a group of guys who would hyperventilate on purpose. I don't know why they thought this was cool, but it sure made me anxious watching them. They weren't hyperventilating because they were anxious about something, but just because they got some kind of high from it.

By honeybees — On Oct 08, 2012

I have never been so anxious that I have hyperventilated, but I have come close. I get short of breath and start to feel a tightness in my chest, so this is probably pretty close to hyperventilating.

For me, I have found it works best if I can take a deep breath and slowly let the air out. The longer I can do this, the more calm and relaxed I feel. Getting the extra oxygen to my brain and allowing my mind a chance to focus and calm down works well for me.

By julies — On Oct 07, 2012

The first time I hyperventilated because I was having an anxiety attack scared me to death. I couldn't catch my breath and wondered what was happening. This made me all the more anxious and I had a hard time getting it under control.

For people who don't understand what it is like to have a panic attack, you probably have no idea what I am talking about. If I start hyperventilating because I am so nervous about something, I know it is time to get it under control.

I am usually over anxious about certain social situations, so the best thing for me to do is avoid those situations. That isn't always possible, so sometimes I have to rely on medications to help get me through.

By lighth0se33 — On Oct 07, 2012

I used to hyperventilate from time to time. My panic attacks would come on at the strangest times, like while I was sitting in English class.

I lived in a constant state of anxiety, so I was always at risk for an attack. A friend told me that it helped him to get mad at the panic attack, so I tried this, and it actually made it go away!

If you get really angry at the sudden fear you feel, you can stop a panic attack before it progresses to hyperventilation. You just tell it, “I will not let you have control over me.”

By Oceana — On Oct 07, 2012

Your breathing can be affected by your anxiety, and you can be totally unaware of it until you start to hyperventilate excessively. Years ago, I suffered from anxiety and tried to control every little thought I had. While I was trying to do this, I wasn't aware that it affected my breathing.

Lots of times, if you are really bothered by something and trying to fix it in your mind, you lose the normal rhythm of breathing. I think I actually stopped breathing and had to hyperventilate to make up for it.

Once you start to hyperventilate, it is really hard to stop. Even taking deep breaths doesn't cure it, because you can't help but take those breaths too quickly.

By cloudel — On Oct 06, 2012

@Perdido – It has to do with breathing in carbon dioxide. When you hyperventilate without a bag, you take in more air than you release, so you lessen your level of carbon dioxide. This can make you numb.

When you exhale into a bag, you are trapping the carbon dioxide. You have no choice but to breathe it back in, and this calms you.

I've never had to do it before, but I've seen it work for other people. It's not a bad idea.

By Perdido — On Oct 05, 2012

I've often seen people who are hyperventilating breathing into a paper bag. How does this help? Is it because they can see by how rapidly they are breathing because of how fast the bag is moving, and this makes them breathe slower?

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