Shortness of breath, medically known as dyspnea, can feel like you just can’t get enough air. It’s also possible for stress to make your breathing more and more shallow without your knowing it—until you need to climb a flight of stairs and you wonder what happened to your lung capacity. There can be serious medical reasons for dyspnea—heart and lung and muscle conditions—but there are also nervous conditions, such as anxiety, that can stimulate the autonomic nervous system and cause hyperventilation.
Hyperventilation is when someone breathes too shallowly and doesn’t breathe out fully so carbon dioxide and other waste products of breathing don’t get expelled from the lungs. In the extreme, it becomes a medical problem and can cause loss of consciousness along with heart and digestive problems.
Breathing therapy can be effective for shallow breathing due to anxiety.
First assess whether the condition is medical or more emotional. If there has been an obvious emotional trauma with no physical trauma then it’s likely it is “just nerves.”
If pain, dizziness, fever or other symptoms accompany the shallow breathing, the condition is beyond breathing therapy. See a doctor.
Practice deep breathing techniques at least twice a day. It has been proposed that deep breathing can reset the autonomic nervous system (from researchers at the Augusta Medical Center in Georgia). The autonomic nervous system regulates heart rate, respiration rate, and digestion.
[Note, the below exercises should be through the nose]
Practice “mindful breathing.” Just sit quietly and be aware of the natural breath. Do not try to speed it up, slow it down, or deepen it. Just observe it. It will deepen on its own. This technique was developed by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk who teaches that noticing the breathing will lead to more relaxed breathing patterns
After the first few sessions of just concentrating on breath, it is likely you will begin to notice your breath at random times. If you notice the breath is shallow or quick, just spend a few moments observing it again, and, again, it is likely to slow down.
Take a deep breath. Breathe out to a slow count of seven. Take another deep breath, breathe out to a slow count of 12.
As you breathe in, sit up straight and puff out your chest. As you breathe out, imagine yourself to be a balloon with a small hole, deflating ever so slowly. Let your body collapse.
Sit and breathe. Hold your hand on your stomach and try to breathe so that the stomach rises with each breath. This can encourage breathing to go lower into the lungs.