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Helping Children and Teenagers to Cope with Life
SECTION 4                Related Topics


Anxiety Body Responses


Meditation  [ADD LINK]

Panic  [ADD LINK]

Therapy  [ADD LINK]




  SECTION 1        Introduction

  SECTION 2        Symptoms of Hyperventilation

  SECTION 3        How to Stop Hyperventilation

  SECTION 4        Related Topics

  SECTION 5        Comments and Feedback

SECTION 1                Introduction

Hyperventilation is the process of breathing too fast (deep or shallow) and thereby causing an imbalance in our oxygen/carbon dioxide ratios.  When we breathe, we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Excessive breathing leads to low levels of carbon dioxide in our blood. This causes many of the symptoms we may feel if we hyperventilate (see below).

Usually people who hyperventilate due to Panic find that they have entered a nasty vicious circle: the Panic makes them hyperventilate which makes them panic even more, which makes them hyperventilate still more, which makes . . .  And so on.

Very often too, a person may not even be aware that they are hyperventilating, unless someone else points it out to them: being aware of our breathing rate is sometimes the very last thing going through our mind when we are feeling anxious or having a full-blown Panic Attack!

Anxiety and Panic are, by far, the most common causes of Hyperventilation, but in a small minority of cases -- when no other symptoms of Anxiety are present -- it may be a sign of a physical condition or illness.  If you feel you have no other symptoms or signs of Anxiety and are worried about your health, then please make an appointment to see your Doctor: better safe than sorry.


SECTION 2                Symptoms of Hyperventilation

These can include:-

  • Light headedness
  • Giddiness
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Numbness
  • Chest pains
  • Dry mouth
  • Clammy hands
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Tremors
  • Tingling
  • Sweating
  • Weakness
(See also a diagram of Body Responses to Stress and Anxiety here.)

All these symptoms are either caused, or made worse, by the build up of Carbon Dioxide in our blood stream due to Hyperventilation.  Do you know how many times doctors in hospital emergency rooms have been faced with patients fearful that they were having a heart attack or stroke, when in fact they were having a Panic Attack, hyperventilating, and as a result experiencing many of those symptoms above?

It's amazing how something as simple -- as stupidly simple! -- as breathing too fast and not knowing how to control it can cause such awful and devastating side effects.


SECTION 3                How to Stop Hyperventilation

For Hyperventilation caused by Anxiety and Panic, there are two approaches:-

1)  "First Aid".
  In the middle of a Panic Attack, the most important thing is to stop the vicious circle in its tracks, to short-circuit that process where we panic, we hyperventilate, we panic some more, hyperventilate even more . . .  The original causes of our Anxiety have by this time become almost irrelevant, as the Panic takes on a life of its own!  So try:

  • Breathing in and out of a paper bag.  This causes us to re-inhale the Carbon Dioxide that we exhaled, thus building our natural blood levels back up again.  Of course there are many times when this would be, erm, inappropriate and appear a little strange to anyone else around -- the last thing we need is a bunch of strangers all staring at us at a time like this!  It's a very effective way of stopping Hyperventilation, though, so try it if you can.  (By the way, it's also a great way to cure hiccups -- honest!)  Warning: do not use the paper bag method for more than a minute or so at a time as this can reduce your oxygen levels too much.

  • Deep and slow breathing.  This requires a little practice for it to become an "instant killer" of Hyperventilation (see our article on Breathing here for more help) but nonetheless you'll find it's still very effective indeed, and it's perfect for those situations where we want to remain inconspicuous and not attract attention when we're panicking.  It works in two ways:  the deep, slow breathing restores our Carbon Dioxide levels to where they should be and induces a feeling of physical calm; and in order to do this properly and get the greatest benefit we have to focus all our attention on our breathing, counting the seconds as we breathe in, and counting them as we exhale again -- this focusing of our attention therefore also helps to block anxious or panicky thoughts from crowding into our minds, thus reducing the Anxiety or Panic.

2)  Longer-Term Treatment.  This is partly a matter of tackling the root causes of our Anxiety/Panic to try to prevent the Panic Response from kicking in in the first place and causing Hyperventilation (see our Anxiety article here), and also partly "educating" ourselves to breathe slowly and deeply, at will.

By spending 5 to 15 minutes a day practising correct (slow and deep) breathing, we not only reduce our overall Anxiety levels but also enable ourselves to be more instantly prepared to take action, almost without thinking, on those occasions when Panic does manage to break through and cause Hyperventilation.


Helping Children and Teenagers to Cope with Life.

Safe Chatroom  -  Forum  -  Advice  -  Support.

JADE is a support site for children and younger teenagers, under the age of eighteen only, who suffer from Anxiety, Depression or other mental problems.

Some of the problems kids and teenagers come to us for help and support with:-

Anxiety, Stress and Panic Attacks - Depression - Social Anxiety - Agoraphobia - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) - Self Harm (Self Injury) - Eating Disorders - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

We also offer advice on:-
alcohol and drugs, anger management, assertiveness, bereavement and grief, breathing techniques and hyperventilation, bullying and teasing, counselling, exercise, fear of failure, low self-esteem, medication, problems at home or with parents, problems with school, relaxation and meditation, sexual and physical abuse, sexual identity, shyness, stress, suicidal feelings, talking, therapy, trusting people.
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