Hyperventilation During Panic Attacks: Can You Control It?

Introduction

Imagine this…you are sitting normally, doing whatever you usually do on a Wednesday evening, when suddenly, you seem to be short of air. Your senses start getting numb, you have this scared, fearful feeling going on inside your head, and nothing is making sense at all. You seem to be breathing rapidly and shallowly almost as if someone or something was suffocating you. And within a few minutes…everything goes back to normal again.  If any of this sounds relatable, then chances are that you probably have experienced an anxiety or a panic attack.

Panic attacks are unexpected, meaning you have no idea what brings or triggers them, and they go away as spontaneously as they had arrived. They comprise many symptoms that a person experiences including a feeling of intense fear, shivering, sweating, shortness of breath, and a nagging feeling that something bad is about to happen. These attacks last for about 30 minutes but leave the person exhausted and in a state of severe mental turmoil.

Among all these symptoms, indeed the shortness of breath is what increases the anxiety level of a person who is going through a panic attack even more, mainly because this adds up to his/her fear that they are going to die soon. This particular symptom might also prove to be life-threatening if not resolved within the safety period. This shortness of breath is widely recognized by the name of “Hyperventilation”, and the best part about it that you are going to learn from here is that it can be very much controlled by you!

Yes, by training your mind and senses, you can easily prepare yourself for the next possible unwelcome situation like this, or even for events that cause you to run out of your breath.  

What Causes Hyperventilation in Panic Attacks?

The most probable triggers behind causing panic attacks are stress and anxiety. During anxiety, a person tends to breathe more shallowly and in a restricted way, because his whole focus is on his anxiety.  When suffering from a panic attack, hyperventilation takes over a person as he runs out of breath by taking shorter and quicker breaths. This state of incomplete, yet over-breathing causes the lungs to run out of carbon-dioxide which also introduces several new physical symptoms including chest pain, lightheadedness, palpitations, and tingling in the limbs. This is because there is now a reduced blood supply reaching the brain, and so the brain responds in such a haphazard, uncontrolled way. 

How To Control Hyperventilation and Breathe Normally During a Panic Attack?

The hyperventilation severity varies from a person to person. If a person tries to get rid of this situation by breathing even faster in an attempt to fill his lungs with oxygen, he is making it worse for himself by putting his body under even more stress.
There are many ways in which a person can gain back control of his breathing, some of which are given below:

  • Always remember that you have full control over your breathing. Especially during a panic attack, this fact is very important to be remembered as it helps with calming half of your anxiety.
  • Instead of trying out different ways to settle down your breathing rate, there is one way that works well in all cases: taking shallow breaths. Many people advise taking deep breaths in this case, but deep breathing does not help as much as shallow breathing does in this situation.
  • Shallow breathing would not only calm down your senses but would also avoid you indirectly from the dangers of deep breathing, as focused type of breathing might further exacerbate the hyperventilation too.
  • Shallow breathing is said to be related to causing “hypoventilation”, a condition that might be the need of the time in panic attacks.
  • Don’t rush. Imagine as if you have all the time in the world, and take time to process the entire situation slowly. Rushing might alter your senses.


Last, of all, make sure you practice these exercises at least once daily. By doing so, you are not only gaining control over your hyperventilation but are also reducing your anxiety levels which will, in turn, tone down the frequency of your panic attacks and make them less scary and more easily manageable.

References

  1. Meuret AE, Ritz T. Hyperventilation in panic disorder and asthma: empirical evidence and clinical strategies. Int J Psychophysiol. 2010;78(1):68-79. doi:10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2010.05.006

Nardi AE, Freire RC, Zin WA. Panic disorder and control of breathing. Respir Physiol Neurobiol. 2009;167(1):133-143. doi:10.1016/j.resp.2008.07.011


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