Physical Symptoms
Fact Checked

Yawning Caused by Anxiety

Faiq Shaikh, M.D.
Yawning Caused by Anxiety

Anxiety causes a lot of unusual reactions in the body, and in some cases it can feel like it changes the way you process air.

It's not uncommon to find that your anxiety is making you yawn more. Yawning is actually a very common symptom of anxiety, especially if you have anxiety attacks, and it's not just because anxiety can leave you fatigued.

In this article, we'll explain why anxiety makes you yawn. You'll also find out how yawning can actually increase your anxiety.

Why We Yawn

Yawning is a mystery of science, and one that is otherwise completely normal. Yawning is most often due to a lack of sleep, but in many cases yawning may be the result of the way your body responds to anxiety, particularly during an anxiety attack.

Anxiety Yawning - Your Breathing During Anxiety

Anxiety has causes some unusual physical responses, but yawning is easily one of the strangest. Yet the reason for yawning is actually fairly simple. When you have anxiety, especially anxiety attacks, your body has a tendency to hyperventilate.

When you hyperventilate, your body starts to feel like it's not getting a full breath. As a response, it tries to yawn, because yawning expands the rib cage and sends a signal to your brain that you did indeed get a full breath. In that sense, yawning is trying to tell your body to relax.

How You Hyperventilate With Anxiety

Hyperventilation is most common during anxiety attacks, but it can actually happen to anyone that suffers from anxiety, and it can happen even when no anxiety is present. The most common ways those with anxiety hyperventilate include:

Hyperventilation is, in essence, the act of "over-breathing." It's the body letting out too much carbon dioxide while taking it too much oxygen. That can be strange for many people because hyperventilation feels like you haven't gotten enough oxygen, but in truth it's the opposite.

Of course, because you feel like you haven't gotten a deep breath, you likely have a tendency to try to take even deeper breaths. This will just cause you to hyperventilate more, as you continue to take in too much oxygen.

How Yawning Can Actually Hurt Your Anxiety

It's for this reason that yawning can actually harm your anxiety. Your mind and body have a tendency to try to yawn so that it can feel your ribs expand and help you feel calmer. But this causes two problems:

In a way, yawning is simply a way that you and your body tell yourself that your heart and lungs are still working. It's a way of curing that "shortness of breath" feeling that occurs when you're anxious. But despite that "benefit," yawning may also be furthering your anxiety, and potentially even triggering more anxiety attacks.

How to Yawn Less

Anxiety yawns cannot be easily turned off, because yawning is still an involuntary movement. In fact, even when you try to force a yawn, your body has to go along with it otherwise a yawn is nearly impossible - your chest simply will not expand to take in a yawn unless your body is willing.

So the key to yawning less is not to stop the yawning, but rather to fight the hyperventilation. You can do this by taking slower, calmer breaths. At first, those breaths will not necessarily decrease that feeling of being unable to take a deep breath, but over time your Oxygen and CO2 levels will be back in the right balance, and your mind and body won't have that desire to take a full yawn again.

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