Why Do I Have To Force Myself To Breathe? (Asthma Or Anxiety?)

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While simply being aware of your breath is harmless, forcing yourself to breathe is an entirely different story as it could indicate signs of an anxiety attack or asthma attack. While both of these share elements of breathlessness and shortness of breath, asthmatic symptoms include chest tightness and cyanosis, while an anxiety attack has symptoms like hot flashes and hyperventilation. 

Since both these conditions are related, you can resort to over-the-counter medication or various forms of therapy such as cognitive behavior therapy. Breathing exercises can be practiced through simple deep breaths and focused meditation as well.

You must have heard the common phrase of doing something until it becomes “as natural as breathing.”

Breathing is the simplest thing that we as human beings do. Most of the time, this act is involuntary, but at certain points in life, you might experience a heavy discomfort in forcing yourself to breathe in and out.

Why do you have to force yourself to breathe sometimes? What are the symptoms involved in anxiety and asthma attacks? Are anxiety and asthma attacks related to each other? What sort of treatments is available for anxiety and asthma attacks? What are some good breathing exercises to follow?

Why do you have to force yourself to breathe sometimes?

The root causes for your difficulty breathing naturally involve anxiety and asthma attacks.

  1. Anxiety attacks – These may occur if you’re going through a sudden extreme situation. However, anxiety disorders on the other hand could even occur when you’re carrying out your day-to-day activities. Basically, due to the overwhelming panic, even a simple act like breathing could pose a major difficulty.
  2. Asthma attacks – This occurs when your airways get inflamed and start to swell causing the surrounding muscles to contract. As a result, the airways generate extra mucus, which is why you’ll have to force your breath heavily.

Other symptoms of anxiety attacks and asthma attacks

Anxiety attacks are not necessarily related to asthma attacks. So, if you’re going through the struggle of forcing yourself to breathe, you’ll need to differentiate the two possibilities so that you can ascertain which attack you’re currently facing. The following table assesses the different symptoms in both.

Anxiety symptomsAsthma symptoms
Increased heart rate – A 2016 experiment conducted on 96 students revealed the fluctuation in heart rate when suffering from anxiety due to a university examination.Chest tightness – The sensation you feel may vary. It could be a dull ache or even a stabbing pain or a feeling as if there’s a heavy weight placed on your chest.
Choking sensation – A 2015 study shows that recent neuroimaging studies clarify that several brain regions take part in the role of anxiety-induced choking.Wheezing – This happens when you’re exhaling. Due to blocked airways, your breathing may sound like a whistle.
Light-headedness – This can be a risky symptom since it can trigger further anxiety, leaving you in a hopeless cycle.Trouble sleeping – Since your lungs are being deprived of adequate oxygen, your breathing will be disturbed, causing you to wake up.
Hot flashes – A hot flash refers to a sudden outburst of hot skin. You would feel your skin burning up and start breaking a sweat that could even last up to five minutes.Continuous coughing – According to a 2011 study, coughing was considered the most common complaint amongst asthma patients.
Hyperventilation – A study conducted by the National Library of Medicine reveals that patients with anxiety disorders show a greater tendency towards hyperventilation independent of their anxiety levels.Cyanosis – This is a symptom of a severe asthma attack in which your skin or lips turn blue. This is caused due to poor blood circulation and can be life-threatening.

Are anxiety attacks and asthma attacks related?

Asthma is a breathing difficulty that can occur due to allergies, genetics, and the environment.

Dust, pollen, pollution, and sometimes pets are a few common asthma triggers. But when it comes to anxiety, it occurs due to extreme fret and panic that also results in breathing difficulties. So, you’ll find that the shortness of breath and having to force yourself to breathe are common grounds for these two health conditions.

The contributing factor for the correlation between anxiety and asthma attacks is the ‘stress’ involved in both. Yes, stress is a valid cause for an asthma attack since when your body is experiencing stress, it releases hormones that make you ready for a ‘fight or flight response.

Your body responds to this by increasing your heart rate, thereby triggering a change in your breathing. It’s also important to know that an anxiety attack can trigger an asthma attack and vice versa.

How can you treat both your anxiety and asthma?

Having to force yourself to breathe during an asthma attack can be scary, and you might feel like you’re suffocating. Due to your fear of experiencing the next asthma attack, you might also develop anxiety. So, it’s best to treat both these predicaments simultaneously.

1. Cognitive behavior therapy

This is a type of psycho-social intervention, or in simple terms, a form of therapy that helps you change your view about your fears through problem-solving techniques and relaxation.

This method of treatment was known as the gold standard in the psychotherapeutic treatment of anxiety disorders by the US National Library of Medicine.

2. Medication

You could always receive a prescription for inhalers and other medication to treat your asthmatic symptoms. Inhalers give significant fast relief for breathing difficulties due to wheezing.

3. Heart rate variability biofeedback

This trains you to match your heart rate to your breathing. It helps you regain control of your breathing functions, thereby minimizing the need to resort to numerous medications.

4. Breathing retraining

This form of therapy educates and helps you practice breathing exercises to help you maintain a regular breathing pattern.

Apart from treating asthma symptoms, it’s also known to boost your pulmonary function and reduce any hyper-reactivity within your airway.

Effective breathing exercises to practice

A young woman is sitting down with her eyes closed practicing deep breathing

Although breathing exercises may seem unimportant, it actually plays a vital role in minimizing breathing difficulties. In fact, studies and practical experience show that sighing and deep breaths have the psychological effect of bringing instantaneous relief.

You can practice deep breathing exercises by sitting in a comfortable place, relaxing your body, and breathing in deeply from your nose for about 6 seconds. Then you should hold your breath for a few seconds and gently release your breath.

Even counting your breath can be a helpful exercise.

For this, you can close your eyes, take a deep breath, hold it and release it while saying the word ‘relax.’ It’s entirely up to you to say it silently or aloud. Then breathe naturally about 10 times, uttering the word ‘relax’ each time you exhale.

If you want to take it to the next level, you can also try out meditation breathing. You’ll need to position yourself in a peaceful environment and focus on breathing out mainly.

As you breathe out, try and release as much air as possible before breathing in again. While you do so, attempt to relax the muscles in your face and shoulders.


A 2016 study conducted by the US National Library of Medicine in which 96 patients participated showed the correlation between anxiety and asthma, which can be caused or result from the other. 

To be on the safe side, it’s always advised that if you’re experiencing asthma attacks, it’s best to receive treatments for anxiety as well and vice versa.

This is all the more important since breathing is what keeps us alive, and forcing yourself to breathe is simply not a fair burden to be carrying.

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Kavisha Rodrigo
I'm a sports person that enjoys researching into pushing the limitations of the human body. When it comes to health, I'm a big fan of working out and staying healthy. For hobbies, I'm a big fan of Pokemon and Coldplay.

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