Do you ever forget to breathe?
I do. It’s usually when I’m stressing out or panicking about something. Like being a passenger in the car while someone is driving angry or when my little girl is doing her best to get a reaction out of me by saying she doesn’t want an “old” mom with streaks of white in her hair – which, by the way is pretty much the only “old” feature I have. Not to be vain or brag, but, at 47, I frequently have people think I’m in my 30’s and who have a really hard time believing I have a 30 year old child . . . adult offspring? But, I digress.
I have a tendency to pull a breath in and hold it when anxiety is asserting itself. (Yes, I am anthropomorphizing anxiety.) I know she’s just trying to protect me and keep me safe. She wants me to be as quiet as possible when she knows fleeing and fighting aren’t safe options. She doesn’t realize that by keeping me quiet by withholding my breath is actually choking and suffocating me. Much of the time I don’t realize it either until the carbon dioxide forces its way out of my lungs.
According to the article, Waiting to Exhale, in a 2007 Psychology Today, written by Alex Fogel, “Usually, breath holding occurs under stress or threat.”
Some people get so panicked that they breathe too much, too fast, and wind up hyperventilating, which expels too much of the necessary carbon dioxide our bodies need. This is as much of a problem as holding the breath too long. According to Mark Tyrell, Creative Director of Uncommon Knowledge in Part 4 of a 7 course program on panic attacks,
The most important thing to understand about hyperventilation is that although it can feel as if you don’t have enough oxygen, the opposite is true. It is a symptom of too much oxygen.
Even if we don’t have an anxiety disorder, sometimes, oftentimes, our lives are moving at such a rapid pace that we do things which affect our breathing . . . like drink too much caffeine.
Basically, our body’s involuntary act of breathing is frequently disrupted by our thoughts and feelings about or reactions to things we are experiencing.
Now that we’ve established that too much or too little oxygen is not good for our bodies, what can we do about it?
Like I tell my little girl when she’s in pre-meltdown mode, “Just breathe.” A long, deep breath in, followed by one long exhalation.
There are many suggestions for breathing to help us manage our feelings of anxiety and panic. There are spiritual practices, such as mindful breathing, and physical disciplines, such as Tai Chi and Yoga, which also teach mindful breathing.
In the end though, we need to just breathe.