Understanding Hyperventilation in Anxiety

person experiencing anxiety

Moyo Studio / Getty Images

Hyperventilation is rapid breathing that usually occurs as a result of anxiety or panic (also called over-breathing). This leads to low levels of carbon dioxide in your blood which causes a number of symptoms.

Hyperventilation in anxiety can be a tricky thing to understand. On one hand, it can feel like you're suffocating or not getting enough air. On the other hand, hyperventilation can also cause shortness of breath, chest pain, and lightheadedness.

The good news is that hyperventilation caused by anxiety is completely treatable. In most cases, all you need to do is slow down your breathing and make sure you're taking deep breaths from your diaphragm (stomach breathing).

If you're having trouble with hyperventilation related to anxiety, please seek professional help. A therapist can assist you in learning how to control your breathing and manage your anxiety.

How Does Anxiety Cause Hyperventilation?

Anxiety can cause hyperventilation in a few different ways. First, anxiety itself can be a trigger for hyperventilation. This is because when we feel anxious, our bodies go into "fight-or-flight" mode. This causes a number of physical changes, including an increase in heart rate and breathing rate.

Another way that anxiety can be related to hyperventilation is indirectly. Anxiety is associated with other conditions that can lead to hyperventilation such as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) or asthma.

Hyperventilation Symptoms

The symptoms of hyperventilation vary from person to person, but they can generally be divided into two categories: physical and psychological.

Physical Symptoms

  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle spasms
  • Numbness or tingling in the extremities
  • Weakness

Psychological Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Dread or doom
  • Confusion

Hyperventilation Treatment

The treatment for hyperventilation depends on the underlying cause. If anxiety is the cause, then treating the anxiety will usually help to resolve the hyperventilation. This may involve medication, therapy, or both. If another condition is causing hyperventilation (such as GERD or asthma), then treating that condition will usually help to resolve the hyperventilation.

In some cases, it may be necessary to treat the symptoms of hyperventilation directly. This can be done through a variety of different techniques, including:

  • Practicing relaxation techniques
  • Learning breathing exercises
  • Taking in less oxygen by breathing through pursed lips
  • Having someone keep you calm with reassuring words
  • Regular exercise

If you're experiencing symptoms of hyperventilation, it's important to see a healthcare provider to rule out any other potential medical causes. Once a diagnosis of hyperventilation is made, treatment can begin. With treatment, most people are able to resolve their symptoms and live normal, healthy lives.

Coping With Hyperventilation in Anxiety

Here are some ways you can prevent hyperventilation due to anxiety:

  • Identify triggers that make you anxious: The first step in stopping hyperventilation due to anxiety is to identify the triggers for your anxiety. Once you know what triggers your anxiety, you can work on avoiding those triggers or learning how to deal with them in a healthy way.
  • Journal: If you're not sure what's causing your anxiety, consider keeping a journal. Write down when you feel anxious and what was happening at the time. This can help you to identify patterns and figure out what's triggering your anxiety.

Once you know what's causing your anxiety, there are a number of different treatment options available.

Treatment for anxiety can include medication, therapy, or both. If you're not sure what type of treatment is right for you, talk to your healthcare provider. They can help you to figure out the best course of treatment for your individual needs.

With treatment, most people are able to reduce their anxiety and stop hyperventilating. If you're struggling to stop hyperventilating, don't give up. Talk to your healthcare provider about other treatment options or consider seeking out a support group. There are many resources available to help you deal with anxiety and hyperventilation. You don't have to go through this alone.

A Word From Verywell

Although it can be scary, hyperventilation is a common symptom of anxiety. With treatment, most people are able to reduce their stress and stop hyperventilating.

The best thing you can do if you're struggling with hyperventilation is to talk to your healthcare provider. They can help you identify the cause of your hyperventilation and recommend the appropriate treatment to help get it under control.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is hyperventilation part of anxiety?

    Hyperventilation is a common symptom of anxiety, but it's not necessarily part of anxiety. Hyperventilation can be related to a number of different things, including GERD and asthma. If you're experiencing hyperventilation, it's important to see a healthcare provider to rule out any other potential causes.

  • How long does hyperventilation last from anxiety?

    Hyperventilation from anxiety typically lasts 20 to 30 minutes. In some cases, people may experience recurrent episodes of hyperventilation which may be diagnosed as hyperventilation syndrome (HVS). However, with treatment, most people are able to reduce their anxiety and stop hyperventilating.

  • What should I do if I think I'm hyperventilating?

    If you think you are hyperventilating, the main goal is to get more carbon dioxide into your blood. To do this, you can purse your lips (as if you're blowing out a candle) and breathe out. You can also breathe through your abdomen and try progressive muscle relaxation.

    If you're still feeling anxious or short of breath, call your healthcare provider. They can give you further instructions on what to do. If your hyperventilation was caused by anxiety or panic, you'll need to also schedule an appointment with a mental health professional.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Hyperventilation.

  2. Du Pasquier D, Fellrath JM, Sauty A. Syndrome d’hyperventilation et respiration dysfonctionnelle : mise à jour [Hyperventilation syndrome and dysfunctional breathing : update]Rev Med Suisse. 2020;16(698):1243-1249.

  3. Yang XJ, Jiang HM, Hou XH, Song J. Anxiety and depression in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease and their effect on quality of lifeWorld J Gastroenterol. 2015;21(14):4302-4309. doi:10.3748/wjg.v21.i14.4302

  4. Martínez-Moragón E, Perpiñá M, Belloch A, de Diego A. Prevalencia del síndrome de hiperventilación en pacientes tratados por asma en una consulta de neumología [Prevalence of hyperventilation syndrome in patients treated for asthma in a pulmonology clinic]Arch Bronconeumol. 2005;41(5):267-271. doi:10.1016/s1579-2129(06)60221-8

  5. Kaiser Permanente. Hyperventilation - Kaiser Permanente.

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."