Breathlessness management

print_iconLeaflet number: EEM034
Review date: August 2017


The purpose of this leaflet is to introduce a way of controlling the feelings of panic and manage your breathlessness. When you are short of breath it can make you worried. This in turn can make you more breathless. In this situation some people find that they become very anxious or even panic. Sensations of panic might include:

  • Tingling sensation in your hands
  • Light-headedness
  • Fast or difficult breathing
  • Palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling out of control and frightened

Recovery breathing method

  • Stop what you are doing
  • Take up a breathing recovery position – see diagram on page 3
  • Turn on a hand held fan and aim at your nose and mouth
  • Blow out onto the fan, but don’t force the air
  • Don’t worry about the in breath; it will take care of itself
  • As you breathe out, narrow your mouth slightly, if it helps
  • When you feel ready, blow out for longer
  • Once your breathing has eased, straighten up
  • Relax your shoulders and upper chest
  • Bring your breathing back to your tummy
  • Stay still for a minute after you have got your breath back before moving

The calming hand

Is a strategy you can use to remind you how to manage when you experience panic or feel out of control.

You could cut out and keep the calming hand diagram and put it in your purse or wallet to remind you.

calming hand

There are five steps (or fingers) to understanding the Calming Hand.

Step 1 – Thumb


Recognise your signs of panic EARLY and take the following steps to regain control:

Step 2 – Index finger

Sigh out

As you do, relax your shoulders and arms.

Step 3 – Middle finger

Breathe in slowly.

Step 4 – 4th finger

Breathe out slowly.

Step 5 – Little finger

Stretch and relax your hand.

Sometimes just hand stretching is enough to help when you are starting to panic.

Repeat these steps until you feel calmer.

Recovery breathing method and positions

recovery positions 1   recovery positions 2   recovery positions 3

Use the breathing recovery positions and recovery breathing method together when you feel extremely breathless after activity.

These are good methods to use with a hand held fan or by an open window.

When using these positions try to keep your back straight but let your head drop so your neck is relaxed.

Resting positions

The following positions may help if you are breathless at rest or if you are feeling very tired or exhausted from breathlessness.

recovery positions 4

Make sure you are fully over on your side.

Resting your upper arm on a pillow may also help.

recovery positions 5

Relax down onto the pillows as much as possible.

Having your legs apart may also help.

Service contact details

Visit the cardiac support services page.

The service is available Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm.

Further information

For further information, please visit our website at:

Useful links:

British Heart Foundation (BHF)

Telephone: 020 7935 0185


Heart Information Line: 08450 70 80 70

Cardiomyopathy Association

Telephone: 01923 249977



Posted in Cardiology (Heart), Patient Information Leaflets and tagged , .

Last updated: July 8, 2016