Hyperventilation Syndrome, Anxiety, and the Stress Response

Fast-paced, stressful lives have become the norm in today’s society. We work more and have more activities that we participate in while choosing to relax less and decrease the amount of sleep we get. We’ve shifted our focus from “being” to “doing”, and it has had a severely negative impact on our overall health and sense of well-being.

A significant shift in breathing pattern, which often leads to chronic Hyperventilation Syndrome, is one of the first and most visible physical signs of stress. As the adrenaline-fueled “fight-or-flight” response kicks in, the respiratory rate increases as our body readies itself for action. This response can be extremely useful when we need to respond quickly to danger, but we rarely face situations where the need for this response is warranted. We’re no longer forced to escape the prowl of a chasing lion or participate in an aggressive hunt for food as our ancestors once were.

To complicate matters, the symptoms created by the unnecessary triggering of the fight-or-flight response cause distress and make us worry even more. Heart palpitations, dizziness, light-headedness, and shortness of breath make us feel as if we are detached from reality and something grave is about to happen. The anxiety that we experience as a result of these physical symptoms exacerbates our hyperventilation and over breathing.

What if I pass out? Am I going crazy? What if I have a heart attack? These questions and others in our mind act as the catalyst for the seemingly never-ending cycle of stress – hyperventilation – stress. This cycle often causes us to lose our sense of proper breathing mechanics allowing many to fall into the trap of a breathing pattern disorder such as Hyperventilation Syndrome.

Even in times when we feel somewhat “normal”, we anticipate the return of the distressing symptoms that cause us to over breathe. Known as anticipatory anxiety, this thinking allows the cycle to continue and even heightens the amount of anxiety and distress that we feel. Often times, intense bouts of stress and fearful thinking can lead to panic attacks – acute periods of intense anxiety consisting of racing thoughts, feeling spaced-out, sweating, fear of losing control, chest pressure or palpitations, and you guessed it – more over breathing. Hyperventilation Syndrome feeds off of stress – control the stress and your breathing pattern disorder is likely to vanish as well.

Stress can be controlled by various means including regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, behavioral or cognitive therapy, and making time to relax and enjoy life again. Likewise, Hyperventilation Syndrome can be overcome through breathing retraining exercises and educating oneself as to the typical physical and emotional symptoms that occur.

It’s important to know that those suffering from Hyperventilation Syndrome can and will feel better in a relatively short period of time once the symptoms are understood and breathing retraining begins.

Hyperventilation Syndrome, Anxiety, and the Stress Response by Joseph R. Pearson

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