I think I been breathing wrong all this time due to anxiety, so I'm 'relearning' to breath correct but something bad is happening.. What could it be?
February 8, 2010 4:35 PM   Subscribe

I think I been breathing wrong all this time due to anxiety, so I'm 'relearning' to breath correct but something bad is happening.. What could it be?

I just read this article and the Dr. mentions to breath with your stomach, not your chest, and then I realized this is what I been doing.

It didn't make sense at first cause he said, your stomach should go out when you inhale, and I thought "go out?", isn't it supposed to go in?

But I forced myself to make my stomach go out as I inhaled, and I felt all that pressure in my chest just instantly go away (I'm having it acutely this past few days, so I noticed it right away)

So first off, that IS correct, right? That stomach goes out, not in.

And if so, well I'm here now just working on breathing like that, but eventually I "forget" and back to my old way. I been doing this the past few days, where now I'm using my stomach more, but it starts twitching, like there's a pulse on my stomach.

I think I been having panick attacks but I got no insurance, and I think I can handle this..

But has anyone else experienced this? What did you do about it?

posted by Like its 1997 to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It didn't make sense at first cause he said, your stomach should go out when you inhale, and I thought "go out?", isn't it supposed to go in?

My stomach goes out. I tried pulling it in and there was a lot of tension, like the chest muscles and stomach muscles were counteracting each other. Then I tried it a little differently and it was a little better, but still difficult, much more difficult then 'normal' breathing.

Think about how it works when you breath. Basically you're lungs don't have muscles in them (I THINK, I don't know for sure) and what you're doing is your own bodies muscles to increase their volume when you breath in, that air rush in. Then when you breath out, you push your lungs closed.

Since the stomach and chest muscles are connected, it feels like if you pull them in, you just add more force keeping your chest 'closed', so your muscles are working against eachother.

Just like if you hold your hands together and push with one and pull with the other, the muscles are working against each other.
posted by delmoi at 4:45 PM on February 8, 2010

Yes, the stomach should go out as you inhale, but it's not necessarily using your stomach muscles to breathe. An exercise that is taught to singers might be helpful to get the feel of it: Stand up, expand your rib cage/chest, lift your shoulders up, pull them back, and let them drop. Then as you sing (or talk, or whatever), keep your chest expanded, and when you run out of breath just relax your diaphragm. You should feel it drop, as your stomach goes out, and your lungs fill with air.

I can't speak to the rest of your question, but give that a shot.
posted by Balonious Assault at 4:49 PM on February 8, 2010

The reason the belly should go out: when the diaphragm (muscle at the bottom of the ribcage) drops due to a full breath, it displaces the organs in the abdominal region. An old singer's trick (of dubious efficacy for singing, but perhaps helpful here): lay down, place a book on your belly, and try to life the book when you inhale, and let it drop when you exhale.

A slightly different approach: try feeling a 360ยบ expansion when you inhale... not just your belly, but in your back as well. The trick is to feel expansion *somewhere*. Try taking totally silent and deep breaths (maybe while laying down) and see how your body naturally responds.

I had serious problems with panic attacks a decade ago, and becoming aware of my breathing is something that had an immediate and significant impact on my stress levels. That said, try to stay away from value judgments like "right" and "wrong" ways of breathing. Relearning this will take time (though not nearly as much as you may think... you undoubtedly breathe "correctly" when you're asleep, after all), so please be kind to yourself. The important thing, I suspect, is to just be conscious of it.
posted by the_bone at 5:10 PM on February 8, 2010

"Breathing wrong" seems like a really loaded description to me (barring some kind of medical issue like sleep apnea). Looking on the web for that concept, I see lots of stuff like this, which features advice from PhDs who are not MDs and are clearly more religious figures than medical advisers.

I think there's probably a lot to claims about the calming influence of deep breathing when relaxing or meditating or the benefits when exercising. However, the idea that you might be "breathing wrong" in your normal day to day sounds really silly.

Normal breathing in an unconscious activity. You're body isn't designed for you to be thinking how to breath every second, you've got specialized areas of your brain that do this for you and regulate the rate of breathing without any conscious thought. While it's possible to override these at any time, I'm not sure you can (or would need to) change the way they work.

So, my stab at an answer to your question: these deep breathing exercises sound like they are helping you relax and fight off panic attacks and that's great. However, don't give yourself more panic attacks because you think you need to be breathing that way all the time.
posted by malphigian at 5:25 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

You've been sold a load of bullcrap. You are alive - that alone means you are breathing fine. Now, there may be special considerations - for example, for aesthetic reasons you may want to breathe through your nose rather than your mouth. Or you are practicing a musical instrument, singing, practicing yoga, practicing certain sports, working out etc. - each will have some breathing techniques associated with it, for the duration of the event. Or during a medical emergency and/or a panic attack, you may wish to employ certain breathing techniques.

But in the course of ordinary life? You're fine, no need to worry.

Fortunately, as my grandfather pointed out, nature has really helped us with certain things - we may lose our keys and wallets, but we don't need to worry about misplacing our heads. Also, men have sacks so they don't need to carry their balls in their hands. And I'll add - we don't need to worry about breathing.
posted by VikingSword at 5:54 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well it's not that I'm breathing "wrong", I just do it subconciously. But I definately have anxiety that is purely due to some very real things. So this is a psychological thing--all in my head... but the physical effect is real (twitching, pulsating, feeling full, feeling like I'm going to 'die')

Thanks tho some good info here. I did the book thing laying down, and yes, it is just a psychological thing.
posted by Like its 1997 at 6:04 PM on February 8, 2010

It's hard to say what your twitch may be. It could be a kind of muscle or diaphragm cramp because your body isn't accustomed to using lower muscles to breathe, and so could improve as you get better at breathing. Like a mild side stitch?

Look into basic yoga breathing exercises for relaxation. It also focuses on breathing with your stomach: looking quickly here's a YogaJournal article & another. (Note there's a lot of yoga breathing exercises that aren't for relaxation too :)

When I do this breathing in yoga, I also use the_bone's 360 approach, with both belly and back expanding.
posted by SarahbytheSea at 6:19 PM on February 8, 2010

I've been through this myself and didn't really learn how to breathe correctly, so that the my body is fully oxygenated, until learning yoga. I saw an allergist/upper-respiratory specialist and after some breathing tests, he said that I was not using my full lung capacity. He suggested that it could be partially psychological but gave me asthma meds just in case. He also suggested yoga.

In yoga you learn Pranayama which is a series of breathing exercises - I've been learning Kapalabhati Pranayama to be specific. Here's a link to one of the exercises we practice

My teacher explained that we should be breathing deeper breaths from the diaphragm instead of the shallow upper chest breaths that can cause panic. In order to strengthen these muscles, we place a weighted bag on our stomach during meditation. If it isn't going up with the inhale and down with the exhale than we are doing it wrong.

If you're like me, I bet you find yourself yawning all the time too! It's because you are breathing shallowly, which is causing you to panic, and not oxygenating your blood properly. Feel free to message me for any more information. I'm still trying to figure it all out myself!
posted by Raichle at 6:20 PM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm a doctor, and even though it sounds like you are possibly correctly diagnosing yourself with anxiety and panic disorder (the feeling that you're going to die, etc.), you should still be seen by a doctor for chest pressure.

Chest pressure is not something to take lightly, I don't want to scare you and cause more anxiety, but please get it checked out. Trust me, I work in an emergency department, and we see people with chest pressure that comes along with anxiety/panic attacks all the time, but we also see that and it turns out there's an underlying medical issue. For example, your thyroid could be out of whack. Hyperthyroidism can cause these same symptoms.

Also, ASSUMING your symptoms are caused by anxiety, it sounds like you are having difficulty controlling your anxiety with breathing, although I applaud you for trying these things, many people are successfully treated for anxiety with a simple antianxiety drug that is not expensive, such as an SSRI. I'd much rather see you try breathing, yoga, a cup of tea, and/or a walk in the fresh air to help your anxiety than popping Valiums, but there are other non-addictive drugs that could potentially help. Seeing a psychiatrist for cognitive/behavioral interventions could also help you a lot since you make reference to "very real things" causing your anxiety/panic. There are psychiatry clinics at teaching institutions that see patients with no insurance.
hope that is helpful.

Just some thoughts.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:48 PM on February 8, 2010

A good phrase to research is Diaphragmatic breathing.

I find it very calming and relaxing. I practice in random downtime, like watching TV or sitting on a bus.
posted by MetaMonkey at 7:31 PM on February 8, 2010

If you want to practice breathing in the new way (which isn't categorically "right" or "wrong," but it sounds as though the stomach breathing may be better and more comfortable for your body, which is great), Vinyasa Yoga is amazing. In a 90 minute session, you probably spend 30 minutes just practicing breathing and focusing on your breath. It's very calming, too.
posted by decathecting at 7:36 PM on February 8, 2010

A little more detail on the method I used:

Breath slowly and deeply, focusing on the breath gently entering the diaphragm, and trickling into the chest. As soon as you feel nicely full of air, allow the air to exit through the nose, with any kind of effort or force.

The key is to pay attention to the breath, feel it entering the nostrils and seeping deep into the lungs. Breath slowly, but at a comfortable rate, naturally, without force. The more you do this practice, you find the breath naturally becomes slower, deeper and more satisfying.

Anytime you feel uncomfortable or short of breath (whether during practice, or any other time) take a nice deep breath, and enjoy the sensation of air entering deep into the lungs, then calmly exhale through the nostrils. Do this a couple of times, and use the calming feeling to center yourself.

When I began this practice I would occasionally feel short of breath or anxious. After a few weeks of practice I found (to my astonishment) that during practice I was breathing in and out only a couple of times per minute. And it felt great!

Once you get the hang of it, you develop a natural reflex to breath deeply whenever you notice you become anxious, or that your breath has become uncomfortably shallow.
posted by MetaMonkey at 7:54 PM on February 8, 2010

You've been sold a load of bullcrap. You are alive - that alone means you are breathing fine.

What an ignorant thing to say. There are definitely less-than-optimal ways of breathing caused by anxiety - shallow, short breaths that keep the anxiousness going, e.g. - and those ways of breathing can become habits that are very much worth unlearning. If you don't have experience with a medical issue someone's asking about, you might want to consider not answering the question.
posted by mediareport at 8:36 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, ASSUMING your symptoms are caused by anxiety, it sounds like you are having difficulty controlling your anxiety with breathing, although I applaud you for trying these things, many people are successfully treated for anxiety with a simple antianxiety drug that is not expensive, such as an SSRI.

Wow, the things that are wrong with this statement... First off, SSRI's are not "cheap" if you don't have insurance. Off the bat I can tell you that 20 mg of generic Paxil (a common anti-anxiety drug at the common dosage) will run you about ~$75/month. I suppose if it makes you feel great it's worth it, but that more than most people can afford. Plus, you need a psychiatrist or at least a doctor to prescribe this and that will cost you for the initial visit + the mandatory follow-up visits they'll require during the first few weeks and then regularly for maintenance. This adds up to hundreds of dollars.

This comment also dismisses the side effects and complications that one can experience while taking an SSRI - some of which are severe. If there is a non-medicinal solution, I would personally suggest pursuing it and I am not a doctor (IANAD), just somebody who's been through it. Regular exercise and breathing techniques can really make a huge difference.

I know people on Metafilter are really fond of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or "flooding" but I really think that the most effective way to combat anxiety and panic is to find out why you are having it in the first place. Conditioning, the basis for CBT, can work, but you have to keep up with it or it fades away. I'd personally look for a permanent change through understanding the condition and treating the symptoms in healthy and natural ways.

Just my two cents.
posted by Raichle at 9:27 PM on February 8, 2010

Not sure if I can help with the twitching, but one thing I tell people who are having trouble learning to breathe diaphragmatically is to raise your hands over your head. You can still breathe higher up but its a lot harder, and most people will breathe in a way that their stomach goes out.

Make sure you take a pause between breathing in and breathing out. A couple of heartbeats is enough, and that will keep you from hyperventilating, which is probably the opposite of what you're trying to accomplish. "breathing retraining" is another key word to search for info. If you want some mp3's of relaxation exercises and breathing instructions you can send me a PM and I'll send them to you.
posted by gilsonal at 11:25 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's something I learned in nursing school: Not everyone's chest moves when they are breathing. When babies are born, notice that it is their abdomen that moves with each breath. Most babies, as they grow, become "chest breathers;" that is, their chest rises and falls with breathing. Some, however, remain "abdominal breathers." I am an abdominal breather, although my professor said it's more common in men than women. I mention this because your abdomen could be naturally inclined to go out, or not.

FWIW my therapist recently showed me a study that shows that deep controlled breathing can be as effective as medications in controlling anxiety.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:14 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks again everybody. I been really focusing on my breathing, doing some of the techniques, and you know what I think it's actually working. Yes, there are issues behind the anxiety I need to deal with in the long term but for the short term these breathing techniques were helpful.

Also I found just going and doing some pull ups or push ups, or going out jogging during an attack helps.

Ironically, I found taking small sips of red bull helped?!?! Could be like how they gave meth to ADD patients and they become calm, who knows.
posted by Like its 1997 at 11:36 AM on February 9, 2010

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