Picture, out of nowhere, you start feeling faint, weak, and your heart is beating one thousand beats per minute. You feel trapped and you cannot get a full breath. Suddenly, you start developing chest pains and your thoughts are racing. Everything around you seems to be crashing down and you finally think to yourself…this is it. Then suddenly, it all disappears and everything returns back to normal again.
Now, you may already know that that you just experienced was an anxiety attack with the same exact physical symptoms. However, you may not have known that all of these symptoms you were feeling was a cause of hyperventilation.
What is Hyperventilation?
It is safe to accuse anxiety for causing hyperventilation. But hyperventilation is accused for many of the physical symptoms of anxiety. Hyperventilation causes so many physical problems that it is labeled as hyperventilation syndrome. It happens to those who experience panic and anxiety attacks, but may impact anyone who suffers from extreme anxiety.
Hyperventilation means to over breathe. It is not the act of getting too little air but rather breathing out carbon dioxide too quickly that causing too much oxygen in the lungs. Hyperventilation can happen when:
- Fast Breath- Breathing too quickly is the most common way of getting hyperventilation and anxiety. When the body experiences extreme anxiety, it goes into a flight or fight mode and that’s when breathing becomes heavy. Body is trying to decide whether to fight or to run when there is no real harm, so that in turn causes the hyperventilation and the other symptoms associated with it.
- Thoughts about how often to breathe- Most people with anxiety or panic attacks have a habit of thinking about their own breath. This is one of the causes of hyperventilation because it inhibits your body to take in more breath than it needs to. The body knows how much breath to take in and usually doesn’t require much. When you are thinking about breathing, you tend to breathe in more than you really have to, causing hyperventilation.
- Deep Breaths that is not relevant- Habit of yawning when you are feeling anxious or nervous and if you breathe in to the point that your chest enlarges when your body is not asking for it may cause hyperventilation. One of the main culprits with hyperventilation is that your body starts to feel like it’s not getting enough air. Your body feels as though not enough oxygen is coming in when in fact it is the total opposite. Someone who is experiencing hyperventilation will try to breathe in too much air too quickly when the body is not asking for it causing the hyperventilation to remain and become worse.
Difference between hyperventilation and hyperventilation syndrome
Anxiety causes hyperventilation which then becomes its own disorder when the hyperventilation becomes worse. That is known as “hyperventilation syndrome”. It’s when you are still experiencing hyperventilation even when anxiety is not present. Your body is essentially trained to breathe incorrectly due to extreme stress and anxiety. That is why it’s very important to understand what hyperventilation is and what causes it for those suffering from anxiety. It not only accounts for many of your worse anxiety symptoms, but it also becomes its own disorder which requires your attention.
Symptoms of hyperventilation
Hyperventilation most often times does not cause harm but it does result in symptoms that resemble harmful disorders. Hyperventilation causes the carbon dioxide in your blood to drop substantially in your blood stream. Because of this imbalance of carbon dioxide and oxygen, your blood vessels constrict and your nerve cells fires uncontrollably. All of this is what leads to the many symptoms that anxiety sufferers find similar, including:
- Racing pulse.
- Pain in the chest.
- Feeling as if you are about to faint.
- Not being able to concentrate.
- Shallow breathing
- Tingling and weakness in the extremities.
Now these symptoms alone will cause someone to go over the edge, but imagine combining them with anxiety. They will lead to even more severe anxiety and panic attacks, fears for your health, and much more.
Not only is hyperventilation caused by anxiety, but it also causes anxiety attacks. If you can somehow find a way to stop the hyperventilation, then you can reduce or potentially eliminate your anxiety altogether.
Most people don’t comprehend that they are hyperventilating until they have actually already started and their anxiety have gotten out of hand. Moreover, when you are thinking about your breathing, that is when hyperventilation will arise. You have an impulse to breathe more than you need to, so it’s not advised to go on everyday trying hard to correct your breathing. Your body knows how to breathe and how many breaths are needed per minute. Let your breathing happen naturally.
You also will need to welcome hyperventilation for what it is—a non-harmful style of breathing that is going to cause feelings of distress. This welcoming is extremely important in the recovery process because if you continually put in your head that there is something wrong with your heart, then the strategies listed below won’t be much of use. Make sure that you visit your doctor to rule out any heart deficiencies.
The following strategies below are the fastest ways to prevent hyperventilation:
- Slow down your breathing! – It may be hard at first since you will have an urge to want to take in more breaths but you have to fight it as much as you can and slow down on the breathing. Try to take in breathes that last as long as 11 seconds or more. One way to do that is:
- Breathe in through your nose slowly for 4 seconds.
- Hold for two seconds.
- Breathe out through pursed lips for six seconds.
If you continue to repeat this, the carbon dioxide in your body will be balanced again hence preventing further hyperventilation.
- Taking a stroll – Walking can be very beneficial. Any forms of physical activity actually will increase the carbon dioxide in your body. If you are suffering from anxiety or panic attacks, you will find it very valuable to do at least 30 minutes of exercise a day and it can be as simple as walking. Not only will you be improving your breathing, but your overall health will also benefit.
- Avoid tight fitting clothes and improve your posture – Wearing tight clothes or belts that are squeezing your gut may increase your risk of hyperventilation. Your stance may also increase your risk. Making these small changes may decrease your risk for hyperventilating.
- Breathing in a brown paper bag – There are mixed studies about breathing in a brown paper bag but there is some sense behind the idea. When we breathe in, we take in additional Co2 that we just let out. This is important to maintain the proper balance of the gas. Breathing in a paper bag may boost the levels of Co2 in your blood, helping you to recover from hyperventilation much faster. It is not advised to do this if there is an underlying problem with your heart and never do it for more than 9 breaths.
- Mental Distraction – The body wants to breathe normally again so distracting yourself mentally and not think about how to fix your breathing will help you control your hyperventilation.