Home / Advice / Struggling to breathe? Feeling hot and sweaty? Coughing?  Is it Anxiety or COVID-19?

Struggling to breathe? Feeling hot and sweaty? Coughing?  Is it Anxiety or COVID-19?


With the easing of lockdown restrictions, some of my patients have reporting feeling more anxious because they are concerned that their symptoms seem like the symptoms of COVID-19. Feeling anxious about the COVID -19 pandemic is to be expected, however don’t let your mind race away and automatically assume you have COVID-19, you may be experiencing anxiety or a panic attack.

Often we can recognise that we are worrying about COVID-19, however, you might not to be able to identify the physical symptoms that you are struggling with anxiety, which can be similar to COVID-19 in terms of shortness of breath, hot and sweaty, and a cough. This causes a cycle of panic – you worry about having COVID-19 and your body creates what feels like symptoms of COVID-19, which you interpret as having COVID-19, which leads to increases our anxiety increasing and worrying thoughts.

Interestingly the mind is unable to distinguish between real and perceived danger, so when it feels that we are under threat and vulnerable, our fight/flight response kicks in and stress hormones like adrenaline, surge through our bodies causing anxiety and/or panic often triggering chest pains, difficulty in breathing normally, making us feel too hot, and sometimes giving us a ‘nervous’ cough.

Anxiety is often related to fear of the future, so if we are experiencing anxiety or a panic attack, it is useful for us to return to this particular moment in time, so here’s some strategies to help you with this.

A common technique is grounding, this technique gets you to describe and be aware of your surroundings. 5-4-3-2-1 is quite easy to remember, list out loud if you are on your own (in your head if you are with others) 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can touch, 1 thing you can taste (think lemons, if you can’t think of anything!)

If you are trying to do the breathing exercises you have been shown, but are finding them difficult, sing, recite poems, chant timetables, all these things will regulate your breathing without you concentrating also it provides a distraction from your worrying thoughts.

Lastly, remind yourself, these feelings of anxiety will pass, think about what you want to happen rather than what you fear will happen.

If you have a history of panic attacks and/or anxiety, remind yourself that your symptoms are likely to be psychosomatic rather than COVID-19. However, it is advisable to contact NHS 111, for a medical team to make an informed decision about your condition, even if it’s just reassurance.

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