Overwhelmed Stressed and Anxious

When in overwhelm and stressed, it is very difficult to think clearly and to look after ourselves in the best way we can.  When living in this state even at a low level it can cause unhealthy breathing such as hyperventilation to become the norm.

What many are unaware of however, is that breathing poorly can actually cause stress and bring on a panic attack. Why is that? 

Many of us are mildly over-breathing all of the time, even at rest; so much so that we don’t realize, and hence the name hidden hyperventilation. There is no doubt that our lives are busier than ever – even during lock-downs – and whenever we add stress to the mix, the hidden hyperventilation likely gets worse. 

The breathing rates and volumes considered normal for humans have increased over the past 50 years, however Dr Konstantin Buteyko1 realized that this trend was not in fact a healthy one and it that it was having a detrimental effect on our health.

In large part, this is down to our biochemistry. Breathing more air than is healthy causes our blood pH to shift resulting in something called respiratory alkalosis. What this means is that efficient oxygen delivery to our brain and heart and muscles is reduced. Both of these effects are described by the Bohr effect. 2 & 3

Unfortunately when the bioavailability of oxygen to the brain is reduced as a result of over-breathing, it causes stress, and activates the sympathetic nervous system or fight or flight response and the consequent release of adrenaline. Breathing rate and volume further ramp up causing even less oxygen delivery and also vasoconstriction. It is a vicious cycle, and ultimately if the hyperventilation becomes severe enough a person will have a panic attack and/or faint.

Over time, when unnoticed or incorrectly diagnosed, the brain’s respiratory center becomes acclimatized to lower levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and it then requires conscious practice to restore breathing to a healthy state.

At the Breathe Free Clinic, we assess your breathing tolerance to CO2 and teach you how to improve habitual disordered breathing. 

However Some Tips which May Help:

A First Aid Tip you can use if you ever feel Anxious or Panicky:

  1. Cup your hands over mouth and nose
  2. Try to breathe gently through your  
  3. Nose into your hands for 3 to 5 minutes

This helps restore CO2 levels in airways and  blood to reverse the panic attack.

When adequate CO2 soothes the irritability of the brain’s conscious centers and activates the vagus nerve4.


  1. Professor Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konstantin_Buteyko
  2. Physiology, Bohr Effect: Andrew Benner; Aakash K. Patel; Karampal Singh; Anterpreet Dua. Last Update: August 15, 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526028/
  3. Bohr Effect: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohr_effect
  4. Evidence-Based Role of Hypercapnia and Exhalation Phase in Vagus Nerve Stimulation: Insights into Hypercapnic Yoga Breathing Exercises” – Singh, U.P. J Yoga Phys Ther7, no. 276 (2027):2