ask a therapist

Dear Therapist,


Hi there. I am having shortness of breath. This is when I am sitting or just not doing anything.

What can I do for this?







Hi Betty,

Shortness of breath can be related to medical issues, so please check with your doctor on this.

However, there is a possibility that you are having physical responses to increased anxiety or you might be triggered related to a past trauma. This physical sign of anxiety is fairly common.

Many people are experiencing anxiety right now because of everything happening in the world:

  • A world-wide pandemic
  • An economic downturn with millions of jobs lost
  • Racial injustices

Shortness of breath may be part of your body’s reaction to the fight or flight response caused by anxiety. If you are interested in more information about fight or flight, consider reading this Ask A Therapist column about stress signs.


We suggest a two-part exercise that might be beneficial for these physical symptoms of anxiety.


Part 1: Cognitive Reframing

Cognitive reframing is a therapy technique where someone looks at a situation from a different point of view. When you change your frame of mind, you change the meaning of what you think. This can help you to turn negative thoughts into neutral or positive thoughts about the same situation.

Here is how you can practice reframing:

First, check what your thoughts are during the day. Are they negative, not based on reality, or fear based? Take inventory of these negative thoughts and work on the reframing.

Consider this thought: “I can’t solve this math problem. I am so stupid.”

This is the negative thought or cognition. The reframe in this example would involve challenging this perception, identifying the distorted thought, and looking for a positive truth.

Challenging the perception: “Is it really true that I am stupid?”
Identifying the distorted thought: “I know I am not stupid overall. I am good at other things.”
A more truthful response would be: “I struggle with math and this problem is particularity hard for me.”

The key with reframing is to be a truth seeker and a lie catcher. The lie is that the person is stupid and the truth is that math is a struggle and this problem is a particularly difficult one.

Remember that we all have innate value as human beings. What are your negative thoughts?

Part 2: Acknowledgment and Deep Breaths

The second exercise is to reduce your physical response to anxiety by using grounding, breathing exercises. Breathe in the positive, exhale the negative.

Take a deep breath from your nose and let it fill its way into your belly, hold it for about six seconds, and then let it out with some force from your mouth. Deep breathing exercises like this ground you back into the present moment, gets more oxygen to your brain and calms your nervous system.

Here is a quick video from JFS about deep breathing.



By focusing on reframing your negative thoughts and stopping to breathe deeply when you begin to have shortness of breath, you should start to see an improvement with these physical reactions to anxiety.

If you would like to learn more techniques or talk to a licensed therapist, JFS is here to help when you are ready. Always remember that the truth is in sight.


The JFS Clinical Team


Disclaimer: The contents of the Jewish Family Service of San Antonio blog are for general use or informational purposed only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The use of any information contained on this site is solely at your own risk. If you would like to speak in detail with a licensed therapist, please email referrals@jfs-sa.org.

If you have a medical emergency, please call 911 or your doctor right away.