We are going to look at hyperventilating (or over breathing) because when we are anxious we will be over breathing. Sometimes that has developed into a bad habit which we can be doing all the time without being aware of.
About 60% of panic attacks are accompanied by hyperventilation and many people suffering from anxiety over-breathe even when they think they are relaxed.
The most important thing to understand about hyperventilation or over breathing is that although we can feel as if we haven’t enough oxygen in our body, actually the opposite is true.
With hyperventilation the body has too much oxygen. To use this oxygen your body needs a certain amount of Carbon Dioxide.
When we hyperventilate we do not give the body long enough to retain carbon dioxide and so the body cannot use the oxygen it has. This gives a feeling that there isn’t enough air in the body, when actually there is too much. Then we are in the cycle of a chemical imbalance which can cause a lot of nasty symptoms. The problem is the shortage of carbon dioxide that causes many problems. Even though carbon dioxide is a waste gas we do need it in certain parts of the body, especially the brain. Although this chemical imbalance can be extremely unpleasant it will not harm anyone and the breathing technique will help restore the correct balance and give a person control over anxiety.
We have a control centre at the base of our brain which measures the levels of carbon dioxide in the blood and decides what to do to keep our breathing balanced. It sends a message to our body on how we should breathe. When we are breathing wrong because the carbon dioxide get low, it goes down a notch and when we start to breathe normally it goes back to its original position. However if we continue to breathe wrong it stays where it is and encourages us to breathe faster and that is where our breathing can become a bad habit and we are unaware that this is the cause of some of our symptoms. If anxiety and stress become a bad habit the body becomes sensitized and is triggered more easily to panic. Regular relaxation and correct breathing will stop the production of stress hormones (cortisol, nor-adrenalin and adrenalin)
Symptoms that may be experienced
Light headiness, giddiness, dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitation, numbness, chest pains, dry mouth, clammy hands, difficulty in swallowing, sweating, weakness, fatigue.
It takes a lot more energy when we are breathing wrong so that can help us to feel very tired.
If you find that your breathing pattern is irregular or uncomfortable a lot of the time, the best way to reset it is by exercising. Start of gradually and check with your doctor if you are not used to exercise.
Bad breathing restricts blood flow to the brain, which affects nerve cells, which are the first to respond. This can cause dizziness and tingling. Low carbon dioxide levels affect the Nervous System. This puts the body on alert. Continued bad breathing causes exhaustion, tiredness and depression. Oxygen levels are lower in the brain and this means we cannot concentrate and can feel not real and cut off. The drop in oxygen levels stimulates the Breathing Control Centre which then increases the breathing rate to compensate and this then encourages hyperventilation. The brain resets and an over breathing habit may be formed. We may not even be aware of what has happened.
Practicing the breathing technique will stimulate the part of the nervous system responsible for relaxation and calming the body down. This is a basic law of biology and if you breathe this way the body will have no choice but to relax.
It may take a few minutes but the body will respond regardless of what the mind is thinking. Doing this regularly with the relaxation CD will cause general anxiety to come down. With practice regularly we want to try and aim for keeping anxiety at a lower base line of arousal that everyone has. Then it stops the body being anxious at the slightest thing and it becomes harder to get stressed.
Regular relaxation and the breathing technique start to stop the production of stress hormones in the body so it becomes harder to panic.
Try this Test
Let us try together and see where you are breathing from, the chest or the tummy. Put one hand below your collar bone and one on your diaphragm, which is just below your rib cage and tummy button. Then breathe how you normally would breathe. Are you breathing from the chest are or you breathing correctly from your diaphragm?
Take a deep breathe through the mouth and see how that feels. Can you feel cold air hitting the back of the throat? That in fact will make us breathe quicker, which will increase anxiety and the symptoms we experience.
Now breathe through the nose with the mouth shut. How does that feel? The air is warm and also filtered of germs so is much healthier.
The Diaphragm is like a sheet of muscle and is shaped like an umbrella and goes up and down as we breathe. It flattens down to expand the lungs and that is why the stomach expands as we breathe in. It draws in oxygen-rich air with little effort. As the diaphragm relaxes the dome shape is restored and carbon dioxide rich-air is gently exhaled. The diaphragm is tailor made to fit your body and its sole purpose is to supply the right amount of air to the lungs during rest and normal activity. Have you ever looked at babies when they are breathing? You can hardly see their body moving and that is because they are breathing from the diaphragm. If you have pets, if we watch cats and dogs for example, they just flop, drop and again breathe very steady and rhythmic. This is a perfect example of breathing from the diaphragm. If you place one hand gently on your tummy, just below your rib cage and belly button and as you breathe in push your tummy gently up and as you breathe out your tummy should gently come down again. We are not going to be deep breathing but breathing very rhythmic and steady. No pause between the in and out breaths. Try and just concentrate on your breath going in and out. We should try and aim for 8 to 10 breathes a minute. Breathing in and out counts as one breath.
We breathe in through the nose with the mouth closed to 4 in and breathe out again to four through the nose, keeping the mouth closed. Feel the stomach expand as you breathe in, inflate it like a balloon and as you breathe out allow your stomach to deflate. Try and just concentrate on your breath going in and out. We should try and aim for 8 to 10 breathes a minute. Breathing in and out counts as one breath.
What this does is restore the chemical imbalance and it will calm the mind and body down, which will reduce the symptoms.
The best way to start is lying on the bed and place your hands gently on your stomach (where the diaphragm is) with your finger tips touching and as you breathe in the finger tips should come apart and as you breathe out they come back together again. As you get used to doing the breathing technique do practice your breathing sitting in a chair, then perhaps when washing up, or standing in a queue in the supermarket, so eventually you can learn to do this way of breathing anywhere in your anxious situations. You do have to practice it regularly because your body is probably not used to breathing this way and needs time to adjust because it is something new.
Resist the temptation to take huge gulps of air in. If we breathe in big we are going to breathe out big too, further depleting carbon dioxide levels.
If a person feels dizzy it means they are still big breathing rather than deep breathing. To overcome this cup both hands over the mouth and nose and re breathe carbon dioxide-rich air for five of six breathes, then rest. Repeat this until the dizziness has gone.
We may have the urge to yawn, sigh or gulp in air. It may seem overwhelming and very uncomfortable but this is a sign of progress and shows that the breathing is beginning to work. The body is trying to make you breathe faster but with practice the breathing centre will adjust and your body will get used to the new way of breathing.
The diaphragm may struggle at first, especially if it has been out of action for awhile. Like any other group of muscles that have not been used, the diaphragm may need strengthening.
Be patient it will work better the more you practice.
Set the alarm 5 minutes earlier in the morning and start the day with good breathing practice. Check the chest area regularly through the day, correct the breathing and forget it. It is important not to worry about the breathing and let it come naturally. As you become accustomed to the breathing there will be less need to check the chest. During stressful times, however, it pays to check the breathing rate and patterns.
Concentrating on the breathing helps bring down anxiety and calms down anxiety
Ring the help Line on 0844 967 4848 and talk to one of our Help Liners who can help you.
Or ring the Crisis Number on 01952 680835 to hear Margaret talk you through the breathing technique