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Do you often feel anxiety? Do you notice yourself breathing heavily during a final exam or a first date?

Well, it’s possible you may have hyperventilation syndrome, which is characterized by rapid breathing. This over-breathing causes a decrease in carbon dioxide in the blood because each time you breathe out, you release carbon dioxide from your body. As a result, this reduces blood flow to the brain, and you may feel anxiety, weakness, or dizziness. Excessive breathing can also cause the lungs to over-inflate because your chest muscles are constantly expanding your rib cage. This extra chest muscle work may cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and difficultly breathing deeply. In addition, by breathing more rapidly, you’re more likely to swallow excess air, which can cause bloating and burping.

Some causes of hyperventilation syndrome are anxiety, fever, certain medications, and intense exercise. It occurs most often in nervous people who breathe shallowly and have a medical condition such as lung disease or a panic disorder. Women and people from the ages of 15-55 are more likely to experience hyperventilation syndrome. Pregnant women are especially affected because changes in their body’s hormones and stress levels may lead to hyperventilation.

Taking 6-12 deep and natural breaths through a paper bag can help control your breathing.

Image Source: Peter Dazeley

How do I treat hyperventilation syndrome? There are home remedies you can try that don’t require a visit to your doctor. The best way to stop hyperventilation is to learn to control your breathing. One breathing exercise you can perform is diaphragmatic, or belly breathing, which fills your lungs fully and slows your breathing rate to help you relax. First off, you place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Then you breathe deeply through your nose, and as you inhale, let your belly push your hand out. Another home treatment you can try is breathing with a small paper bag over your mouth and nose. If home remedies don’t work, medication and therapy are also options.

A way to prevent hyperventilation is to breathe through your nose. When you close your mouth, it’s harder to over-breathe because you take in less air through your nose. Another way is to practice breathing and relaxation techniques, as mentioned above. Other techniques include breathing with pursed lips, breathing once every five seconds, and relieving stress through massage or yoga. Furthermore, exercising daily, sleeping well, eating healthy, and avoiding caffeine can reduce anxiety and prevent hyperventilation.

Feeling anxiety right before an exam or job interview happens to everybody. Just remember, when you start getting nervous and breathing rapidly, relax by belly breathing or using a paper bag.

Feature Image Source: BREATHE by Nicolas Stajic

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