Many people believe that if they are experiencing shortness of breath, there must be a physical reason behind it. However, our mental health significantly impacts how our body reacts physically. Anxiety causes shortness of breath because it activates the fight or flight response in the body. Although it is extremely common, shortness of breath due to anxiety can be a distressing experience, but several techniques can help manage and reduce this symptom. A few ways to manage shortness of breath from anxiety are:

  • Deep Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises are one of the most effective & underrated ways to address anxiety-related shortness of breath. These exercises allow you to take control of your breathing, which also helps regulate your heart rate. Research suggests that diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, is a good deep breathing exercise to reduce shortness of breath. Here is how you can practice it:

  • Sit straight and comfortably or lie down
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen
  • Inhale slowly through your nose and feel your stomach expand
  • Exhale gently through your nose or mouth while feeling your stomach contract
  • Keep practicing this until you feel a sense of relaxation.

Deep breathing helps regulate the autonomic nervous system, promoting a calming response.

  • Grounding Exercises

Anxiety-producing thoughts may occasionally result in shortness of breath. Grounding exercises are a useful way to focus your attention on the present moment while redirecting attention away from anxious thoughts. A few ways to practice grounding are:

  • Focusing on an object and describing it in detail
  • Imagining your favourite place in detail
  • Remembering a recent positive memory
  • Engaging your senses by smelling something good or listening to soothing music

  • Practice Positive Affirmations

Shortness of breath due to anxiety can make you feel uncomfortable. It can feel as if things are out of control and that you are unsafe. At such times, it is important to talk to yourself in kinder and healthier ways to manage the difficult experience. A research study conducted in 2016 suggests that talking to yourself positively helps reduce anxiety. Reduced anxiety will help you regulate your breathing as well. A few examples of positive affirmations are:

  • I am safe
  • I am handling this well
  • As I breathe, I am more calm and relaxed.

  • Identify your triggers

Identifying your triggers is one of the most important ways to manage anxiety-related shortness of breath. When you are aware of your triggers or anxiety-provoking situations, you can make plans to manage them in better ways. Regular journaling is one way to keep track of triggers for anxiety.

  • Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation technique that involves tensing different muscles in your body and holding that tension for 3 to 5 breaths before slowly relaxing the muscles. Starting from your toes, slowly tense each muscle in your body, and hold the tension for a few seconds before releasing. Gradually keep moving up to your legs, stomach, and hands until you reach the head. Keep taking deep breaths while relaxing your muscles. Research suggests that Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) combined with deep breathing can reduce stress. You can find guided tapes of PMR on YouTube or certain dedicated apps. 


While shortness of breath due to anxiety can be distressing, it is a common and treatable issue. Generally, breathing should come back to a normal rhythm when you no longer feel stressed or threatened. However, it could be beneficial for you to seek therapy from a mental health professional if you notice that your shortness of breath is interfering with your daily life due to anxiety. Therapy will help you gain clarity about your symptoms while also helping you address the root cause of the issue.


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  2. Can Anxiety Cause Shortness of Breath? (2021, August 17). Psych Central.
  3. Cascio, C. N., O’Donnell, M. B., Tinney, F. J., Lieberman, M. D., Taylor, S. E., Strecher, V. J., & Falk, E. B. (2016). Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 11(4), 621–629.
  4. Hamasaki, H. (2020). Effects of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Health: A Narrative Review. Medicines, 7(10), 65.
  5. How to tell if shortness of breath is from anxiety. (2020, August 18).
  6. Сalmerry. (2023, January 31). Shortness of Breath and Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment.
  7. href=””>Image by Drazen Zigic</a> on Freepik
Dhruva Koranne

Dhruva Koranne has completed his Masters in Applied Psychology from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, BALM. He has been practicing as a counsellor since 2020 and works to create a safe space for clients where they can open up. In addition to this, Dhruva loves researching and studying about upcoming theories in the field of Psychology. Connect with him on Linkedin