Chest Information and Support > Looking after yourself > Coping with stress and anxiety

Coping with stress and anxiety

Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure that you feel unable to cope. Stress can affect how you feel, think, behave and how your body works. Common signs of stress include difficulty concentrating, sleeping problems, loss of appetite, sweating, headaches, muscle tension or pain or dizziness.

Stress is not always a bad thing as it causes a surge of adrenaline in your bloodstream which when released helps you to deal with pressures or threats. Once these have passed your stress levels will usually return to normal. However if you are constantly under stress, then you may find that you adopt unhealthy coping methods such as smoking, drinking alcohol, eating badly and not making time for exercise.

One of the symptoms of many chest conditions is breathlessness. Because this breathlessness is not in relation to physical effort, it is often felt to be out of your own control and so when severe, causes anxiety and sometimes feelings of panic.

Unfortunately, these anxious and panicky feelings tend to make the breathlessness worse, which in turn increases your anxiety. You can learn to control your feelings of stress and anxiety. Taking control of breathlessness and learning how to deal with anxiety and panic attacks will help you to get the most out of life.

Recognising stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety can affect people in many different ways, physically, emotionally and how you behave. Understanding what triggers your stress and what your symptoms are is important to then being able to cope with it.

Ways that anxiety can affect you include:


Possible physical symptoms include: Possible emotional problems include: Possible effects on behaviour include:
  • Headaches
  • Stomach problems
  • Sweating
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Bowel and / or bladder problems
  • Breathlessness and / or palpitations
  • Dry mouth
  • Tingling in body
  • Sexual problems


  • Feeling irritable
  • Feeling anxious or tense
  • Feeling low
  • Feeling of apathy
  • Feeling low in self esteem
  • Temper outbursts
  • Over drinking and / or smoking
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Withdrawing from usual activities
  • Being unreasonable
  • Being forgetful and / or clumsy
  • Rushing around


The symptoms of panic do not mean that you are going mad. They do, however, make you more tired. Being anxious and tense is a serious drain on your energy. Once you have learned how to manage anxiety, you will find you have more energy for other things.

Controlling your stress and anxiety

Learning how to cope with these feelings will give you the power to control the very unpleasant symptoms involved and help you to deal with what is actually happening.

There are some techniques that you can learn that will, with practice, help you to deal with any situation that makes you feel anxious or stressed:

  • Learn how to talk yourself out of panic by concentrating on how you actually feel and not how you imagine you are going to feel.
  • Replace negative thoughts with positive images of you doing things without any problem.
  • Try and remember that most things are not as bad as you think they are going to be.
  • Learn to check your breathing so that you don’t breathe too fast (hyperventilate) and practise breathing control. Counting one thousand, two thousand, three thousand helps.
  • Learn and practice a relaxation technique.
  • Exercising can help to reduce feelings of stress
  • Talking the issue through with someone you trust

Getting support

You should speak to your doctor in the first instance if you are struggling with stress. Depending on your situation your doctor may suggest treating your stress or anxiety through learning relaxation and breathing techniques with the help of a professional, for example. a counsellor or psychologist. You may benefit from Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which is a form of therapy that focused on how you think about yourself, the world and others as well as how your thoughts and actions affect your feelings. Your doctor could also suggest treating you with anti depressant drugs.

It is always better to talk about your anxieties or stresses sooner rather than later.

For more information, call the Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland Advice Line nurses on 0808 801 0899 or see our Essential Guide to Mental Wellbeing (PDF).