Handling Stress and Anxiety: Hyperventilation

Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus


“Jeez, Maddie, you’re panting like a dog! What’s wrong with you, anyway?” Maddie’s brother David wasn’t the first to notice her strange breathing patterns. The odd thing was, Maddie never noticed that she was doing it until someone else brought it to her attention. “Maybe that’s what is causing those dizzy spells I’ve been having,” she reasoned.


Improper breathing can leave you breathless! Don’t hold your breath. Read on to understand the impact of hyperventilation.

Breathing is one of those functions we simply take for granted. Afterhall, breathing is a natural reflex that seemingly takes care of itself without conscious thought. Nevertheless, many people breathe improperly and may therefore be prone to the hyperventilation syndrome.

Every time we exhale, we expel carbon dioxide (CO2) from our lungs. This is good because if too much CO2 builds up in our bodies it can be unhealthy and result in unpleasant symptoms. But expelling too much CO2 can also produce a wide range of scary sensations and symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, tingling, numbness and excessive sweating.

Some authorities maintain that the hyperventilation syndrome (HVS) happens because CO2 is dissolved in our blood in the form of carbonic acid. When too much CO2 is released from our bodies, the concentration of carbonic acid in our blood drops and the body furiously struggles to compensate, thus causing the symptoms of hyperventilation.

• If you often experience unpleasant dizzy spells, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, tingling, and the other symptoms referred to above, you may be suffering from HVS.

The first thing to do is

• see your family doctor to rule out any obvious medical conditions.

If symptoms continue, try the “paper bag” method. Here’s what to do at the next episode:

• Try taking five to ten breaths into a lunch-sized paper bag (always use a paper bag ~ never a plastic bag) recycling the same air over and over.

This should increase the CO2 levels and restore the carbonic acid balance in the blood, thereby reducing symptoms. Other methods, all simple but effective, are slow abdominal breathing and the technique of running in place.

• If symptoms persist, consult your family doctor again, or see a health or mental health professional who specializes in therapeutic breathing techniques.


Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus is a licensed psychologist, Co-founder and Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute. In addition to his general psychotherapy practice, Dr. Clifford Lazarus specializes in health and neuropsychology.

Dr. Clifford Lazarus received his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. in psychology from Rutgers University where he was a Henry Rutgers Research Scholar.  Seen here are excerpts from one of his books, The 60-Second Shrink – 101 Strategies For Staying Sane In a Crazy World, a book, he co-authored with his father “One of the ten most influential psychotherapists in America”  Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D.  For more details on Dr. Clifford Lazarus visit this link to The Lazarus Institute.  Or visit his page here on friendlysuggestions.com.


Books available at Amazon by Arnold and Clifford Lazarus

Direct links to two highly recommended books by Dr. Clifford Lazarus and Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus:

The 60-Second Shrink: 101 Strategies for Staying Sane in a Crazy World 

Don’t Believe It for a Minute!: Forty Toxic Ideas That Are Driving You Crazy

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