Breathing anxiety is a disturbing feeling that you have the inability to take a deep breath. So many anxious folk, especially when out in public, find it incredibly difficult to expand their chests and feel like they’re getting a full deep breath of air. They feel tightness in the chest and throat area.
The feelings of breathing anxiety can persist even after you’re no longer out in public, especially if you have become really freaked out and sensitized to the symptom. That is, the more it scares you, the longer it can last…
The person with breathing anxiety fears that he or she will suffocate- because that is exactly how it feels. They may gasp and gulp for air in their attempts to bring oxygen in.
In their efforts to get enough air, the anxious breather may start hyperventilating, or over-breathing. And this can cause a the sufferer to feel lightheaded or even tingly sensations in the hands. Now the breather might be worried they’re having something really serious, like a stroke.
The person with breathing anxiety may fear that breathing will just stop if they don’t consciously make the effort to take in each and every breath. So they monitor each and every breath, so sure that the next one will not happen if they don’t. It can be physically and mentally exhausting.
This is a cycle of being afraid, getting disturbing symptoms, and then being even more afraid of those symptoms, which only serves to keep the breathing anxiety going.
As with every disturbing anxiety symptom, knowledge is power. Knowledge and action that is.
Lets take a look at the reality of breathing anxiety, how it’s really nothing more than a fluke.
with breathing anxiety, stress hormones like adrenalin are released. This causes the muscles in the chest and throat area to feel like they are tensing up. Then the sufferer starts to worry that they are not getting enough air, and fears fainting or suffocation.
It’s the anxiety and worry about the breathing that keep the feelings going. The truth is, your breathing is a built in automatic system in your wonderful body. Everyone and every living thing breathes on it’s own- newborn infants, healthy people, sleeping people, even people in comas.
In Peace From Nervous Suffering, Dr. Claire Weekes challenges the person with breathing anxiety to test that this is the case for them. No matter how long they feel they have been struggling and doing everything in their power to keep breathing, she assures that they can not make themselves stop breathing.
She challenges the anxious breather to hold their breath for as long as they can- and see how long they can really stop breathing. The anxious person may feel this is dangerous for them to try, but once they do try it, they find they can only hold their breath for 20 or 30 seconds max.
And then something wonderful always happens: they are forced to take in a breath- usually a very deep one almost against their will!
The reality is, although anxiety may cause your chest and throat to feel tight, your body will always get all the oxygen it needs. It’s built in and there’s nothing you can do about it. Despite feeling to the contrary, even as you gasp for air and monitor every breath, your body is still getting enough oxygen.
The anxious breather may hear or know that it’s helpful to do diaphragmatic breathing, but this just doesn’t help them. After all, they can’t move their diaphragm!
The solution for breathing anxiety is just this:
To the best of your ability, continue to go about your activities, even while you experience the muscles being tight in your chest and throat. The key is to not be overly concerned about the symptoms you feel. The goal is to lose the fear of the breathing anxiety. For once you stop being focused on it, the adrenalin stops, and your body will naturally relax again.
Understanding this is key- that breathing anxiety will not harm you, that you will not suffocate or stop breathing. You can rest assured that your body is healthy and strong and functioning as it should.
And some important advice here- NOT be disappointed if you still get the breathing anxiety once you fully understand that it won’t hurt you. Overcoming anxiety symptoms takes repetition, and your memory and sensitization may cause you to occasionally feel like you cant take a deep breath once in awhile. Or a lot if that’s one of your main symptoms.
But accept that you are ok, that you can breathe and just keep going. You are safe.
Can you share any breathing anxiety tips that help you?
I wish you peace,