Hyperventilation or over-breathing simply means breathing in and out more air than the body needs. When you over-breathe, your body gets too much oxygen. At the same time, it gets rid off much more carbon-dioxide than it can produce. This causes the blood levels of carbon-dioxide to fall too low.
The low blood levels of carbon-dioxide can produce many unpleasant sensations, such as:
- An irregular heart rate. One of the effects of low levels of carbon-dioxide is to constrict blood vessels. The constricted blood vessels reduce the blood flow through the body, including the heart and brain. For that reason the heart may begin to pound, miss a few beats, or produce palpitations.
- Trembling, tingling or numbness. When the blood flow is reduced, all the body tissues receive less oxygen. This can cause tingling sensations or numbness of the mouth, hands and feet. Or, you can feel an overall weakness and as the legs are unable to support you.
- Light-headedness, dizziness and blurred vision are among the commonest symptoms because of the constricted blood vessels the brain receives nearly half of the normal oxygen than normally receives.
- Shortness of breath and feeling of suffocations. Probably this is one of the most frightening symptoms. The low levels of carbon-dioxide do not allow the body to use the oxygen it has. This produces a feelings of lack of air when actually the body has too much air.
What is important to know is that all the sensations produced by hyperventilation are totally harmless. Hyperventilation is a condition and not an illness which can happen to everybody.
Another important thing to know is that hyperventilation can be controlled and stopped. Breathing is the only automatic function of the body that you can control at will. You can not directly slow down your heartbeat or stop sweating, tingling, chest pain, and other panic attacks symptoms, but you can bring your breathing under your voluntary control.
That gives you a possibility to change the way you breathe when you are anxious, fearful or under stress, and by changing the way you breathe during a panic attack you can reduce the severity of the sensations and lower your anxiety.
For that reason the first step in mastering your anxiety and stress levels is learning to control your breathing.