Why do I have trouble breathing when I am stressed and tired?

Last Updated on June 19, 2021


I have trouble breathing when I am tired. It only happens when I’m tired. When I exercise or workout, I don’t have such problem. I am not overweight, I’m in my early twenties,  5’5” and 120 lbs. I work out 5 days a week and eat healthy. I do smoke but it’s only been 2 years. I doubt I have COPD, nobody in my family has ever had it or any form of lung cancer (and I come from a family of chain smokers). I plan on quitting this month anyway and have been smoking less each day. My heart rate was about 80 and my blood pressure was 104/60 yesterday. This only seems to happen to me when I am exhausted. My grandmother has asthma but she developed it in her 60’s. I have ran track for years and been active all of my life. I have been really stressed out lately.

My two cents:

The last sentence posted “I have been stressed out lately” provides a lot of clues to your breathing problem.  You situation is similar to the fact when you are suddenly thrown into the water and you could not swim- what happens? You would be struggling to breathe because of panic.

The overwhelmed feeling of being stressed over deadlines or over an assigned task that we do not know how to do (but may ruin our job if we cannot deliver) may cause panic.

That is why people can develop health problems even though they lead  a relatively healthy lifestyle- eat right, exercise frequently, sleep early, etc. Because it’s not only about lifestyle but on the emotional wellbeing of the person as well.

The next time you feel that way, pause for a while….just forget about your responsibilities, and assignments for a while. Find somewhere quiet- close your eyes and take a deep breath. Or go outside for a short walk (sometimes I do that after office hours- when I have tonnes of things to do and do not know where to start).

No point of trying to crack or push your tired brain to the limit- because the more you push, the more tired your brain becomes….and of course no ideas or solution would come out. That would result more panic and difficulties in breathing. A bit of rest and deep breathing helps very much.

Think in perspective

We tend to panic when everything is ‘in our head’. Get a book and write down all the things we need to do so that we can get the ‘list’ off our heads. Once everything’s down in writing, it takes the weight off our shoulders. And then we can prioritize and decide which one to do first.

I must admit I don’t  have discipline of consistently writing down in my notebook the things that I need to do – and when a lot of work comes in, I sometimes feel a little overwhelmed and tired. So I would take a few minutes to write down everything and would immediately feel better… because often things are not as bad as what I imagined it to be.

What’s the worst that could happen

I always use this when it comes to situations when things get so bad that you feel you are literally drowning. I would asked myself, “what’s the worst that could happen”.

Let’s say for example- perceived fear:  I have a deadline and I’ll be dead if I cannot deliver it.

What’s the worst that could happen if I cannot deliver the project on time?

Answer: The worst they could do is to fire me… but at least I know I have done my best and if they choose to fire me for this, well, these people are not worth working for anyway- so why am I working myself up?

What’s the worst that could happen if they fire me?

Answer: Well, I’ll be out of job and have no income. But, I can always look for a job…perhaps it’s a good time to change or explore something different since I don’t really like this job anyway….

See…. it’s not that bad. It may lead us look for other options- because, honestly speaking… if you always feel overwhelmed in your job, it may be a sign the job does not make you put your best skills to use. That is why you ended up taxing your poor brain and making it feel tired….and then you develop breathlessness when you feel overwhelmed.

I know what I am talking about because 3 years ago I quit my previous corporate job because I was burnt out. For years, the stress was building up but I could not bring myself to quit it. Till I asked myself the question, “what’s the worst that could happen if I were to quit?” and I quit after addressing the fears that I have.

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