What is Hyperventilation? Techniques to Help Manage Anxiety Symptoms


Mental health conditions such as types of anxiety disorders may cause extreme distress to those affected as well as to friends and relatives.

Anxiety may manifest itself in a variety of different ways ranging from mild (sweating, dry mouth, increased urination) to severe (palpitations, fainting, panic attack). Another example of an anxiety-related symptom, that of hyperventilation, will now be explored.

man hyperventilating
Hyperventilation – image by medicalnewstoday.com
  • What is hyperventilation?
  • Self-help tips for coping with hyperventilation
  • How to help others cope with hyperventilation

What is hyperventilation?

An individual is described as hyperventilating when they are over-breathing as when one breathes too quickly taking shallow breaths this results in an imbalance of carbon dioxide and oxygen.

hyperventilation syndrome
An imbalance of carbon dioxide and oxygen might lead to hyperventilation – image by slideshare.net

According to Carr (2008) hyperventilation is common to everyone as part of the fight or flight mechanism and usually occurs when one is either having to suddenly exert oneself or is under stress. In the short-term this is not problematic however if it lasts too long then distressing symptoms are likely to occur which include tingling, feeling unable to breathe properly and pins and needles.

Self-help Tips for Coping with Hyperventilation

The most important thing is to remember that though the symptoms such as feeling like one cannot breathe are very frightening they are not dangerous or harmful and are temporary. It can help to say out loud that it will pass and that everything will be fine again soon.

Hyperventilation will pass and everything will be fine again soon – image by youtube.com

A useful item to carry around if one is experiencing frequent episodes of hyperventilation is simple a paper bag. When the over-breathing starts find somewhere to sit down and place the paper bag so it covers over both nose and mouth.

Place the paper bag to over both nose and mouth – image by tasteforlife.com

Next, as slowly as possible, take steady breaths in and out which will help calm and normalize breathing. Alternatively if unable to obtain a paper bag, taking deep breaths down through the abdomen will also work well.

TakeADeepBreath Feature
Taking a deep breath might help – image by yogiapproved.com

Another key skills often covered within the framework of dialectical behaviour therapy is that of mindfulness – finding something outside of oneself to really focus on takes the mind away from the anxiety one may be experiencing.

How to Help Others Cope with Hyperventilation

It is useful if a partner, close friends or relatives are aware of what happens in hyperventilation so that they know that it is not harmful and how best to help.

help someone hyperventilating
Help others cope with hyperventilation – image by healthyliving.azcentral.com

It is important that those close to the person suffering from hyperventilation remain as calm as possible as if someone around one is panicking and getting all hot and bothered this will only make the individual even more anxious.

One of the best things one can do to help is to calmly, slowly talk the person through a simple breathing exercise as this will help both reassure and comfort them.

anxiety jumbo
Breathing into a paper bag will help to reduce the level of anxiety – image by theirishboys.org

To conclude, hyperventilation is not something to be alarmed about despite its distressing symptoms. Breathing into a paper bag as well as learning some basic breathing or relaxation exercises will help to reduce the level of anxiety more quickly.


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