Why do I keep unconsciously holding my breath??
April 16, 2015 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Lately I keep noticing that I'm practically holding my breath. It feels like it might be an anxiety thing? What gives and how do I train myself out of it?

I'm an inveterate sloucher, despite efforts to reform - have been for a long time. I notice that I keep slouching forward a bit, which makes it a tinier bit harder to take a deep breath, so I take these little shallow breaths and sometimes wind up inadvertently holding my breath. I certainly don't feel like my brain is impaired or that I'm not getting enough oxygen or that I'd pass out or anything like that; it's just that I keep realizing I've been breathing stupid and need to take some real breaths. I notice it more at the end of the day.

Obviously when I notice I'm doing it I sit up straighter and take several deep breaths. But I keep doing it, and it's annoying, and it certainly doesn't help with the anxiety. I suppose my chest does feel a little tight, but I've never wheezed or had any asthma symptoms. I certainly don't feel sick. I do have plenty of anxiety in my life (see: string of AskMes about kid's escalating illnesses). So: Does anybody else do this, what did you do about it, and how do I teach myself to breathe better?
posted by telepanda to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
I do it because years of slouching have trained my body to expect less air to begin with. I think I'm not totally holding my breath, though; I'm just not totally aware of how many shallow breaths I'm taking through my nose. YMMV.
posted by Hermione Granger at 3:13 PM on April 16, 2015


I do this all the time. It feels like what people describe with sleep apnea except I'm wide awake. Add another anxiety prone sloucher to the mix, though I'm not sure that's the cause.
posted by cecic at 3:14 PM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


This happens to me during anxiety attacks: I have to explicitly remind myself to breathe. Practicing mindfulness meditation helps me, as it involves staying focused on your breath. "Practicing" is, for me, the key word. If I don't set aside 5 or 10 minutes every day to do it, it completely loses its punch for me.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:15 PM on April 16, 2015


Yes, I do this as well, and there's a pretty clear connection between it happening and me being extremely stressed, or anxious. (I am a stressed and anxious kind of person in general.) As it inevitably seems to happen when I'm alone and fretting as I'm doing something else, I stop what I'm doing, and just concentrate on breathing.
posted by skybluepink at 3:59 PM on April 16, 2015


Time spent thinking about your breathing now and then is a good thing, and is helpful to thinking clearly and reliieving stress, not a burden. I realized this while working through the audiobook The Mindful Way Through Depression a couple of years ago.
posted by w0mbat at 4:07 PM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is currently on the fringes of "legitimate" science, but there are some fascinating studies that suggest computer use triggers a kind of apnea! Linda Stone is studying it. Are you often on your computer?
posted by artemisia at 5:43 PM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've noticed this happening to me these last couple of weeks. I was confused, because I'm not particularly stressed or anxious. I went to the doctor and it turns out I have a low-level virus making my breathing just slightly more difficult, without me even feeling like I have a cold. Decongestants and extra asthma treatment are helping. YMMV but it could be as simple as that.
posted by escapepod at 6:02 PM on April 16, 2015


Inadvertently holding your breath while concentrating on something else is actually pretty common. Noticing that one is doing it and gently correcting it can make one more mindful of when it starts to happen so that one starts correcting it earlier and more automatically.
posted by jaguar at 6:06 PM on April 16, 2015




FWIW, I often do this when I'm lying on the couch reading, but I'm not stressed. I'll take a full breath and hold it for a few seconds, then let it out and breathe normally for a while before I repeat the cycle. Mrs. Wallflower will ask me if I'm okay when I do this.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:25 PM on April 16, 2015


I've done this at times, and starting to do more yoga was really helpful. Also, using a standing desk instead of slouching in front of my computer.
posted by three_red_balloons at 10:33 PM on April 16, 2015


I take these little shallow breaths and sometimes wind up inadvertently holding my breath. I certainly don't feel like my brain is impaired or that I'm not getting enough oxygen or that I'd pass out or anything like that; it's just that I keep realizing I've been breathing stupid and need to take some real breaths. I notice it more at the end of the day.
...
I suppose my chest does feel a little tight, but I've never wheezed or had any asthma symptoms. I certainly don't feel sick. I do have plenty of anxiety in my life (see: string of AskMes about kid's escalating illnesses).


Rapid, shallow breathing (tachypnea) is associated with carbon monoxide exposure:
Amongst pathophysiological causes, tachypnea can be a symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning in which oxygen delivery to the tissues and organs is blocked causing hypoxia and direct cellular injury.
and so is tightness in the chest:
Besides tightness across the chest, initial symptoms of CO poisoning may include ...
Children are most vulnerable, and
carbon monoxide poisoning mimics many common illnesses, such as the flu and food poisoning ...
Low level CO exposure also sharply increases rates of respiratory infections in children:
Children with COHb above the safe level are 3.25 [95% confidence interval (CI), 1.65-6.38] times more likely to have ARI than children with COHb < 2.5%. Furthermore, with each percent increase in COHb above the safety level, children are 1.15 (95% CI, 1.03-1.28) times more likely to have an additional case of ARI. Our findings provide strong evidence of the relation between CO exposure and susceptibility to respiratory infections.
You mentioned in a previous question that your son does fine in his daycare, but tends to have meltdowns in the evening; this might be consistent with CO exposure at home or perhaps even on the way home. His motor issues could also be explained by CO exposure.

And finally, CO is associated with vision problems, but I didn't find a claim that it causes night blindness specifically, though I think that is a possibility.
posted by jamjam at 11:04 PM on April 16, 2015


Thanks for the thoughts and the research, jamjam, I've read a bit and will read more, but I don't think that's it. What I'm describing, I feel mostly in my office towards the end of the workday; I've avoided night driving since the beginning of time; Micropanda's behavior has improved immensely with some lifestyle changes to give him less school time, more down time, and earlier dinners; and though some lab results are yet to come in, we think we finally we have a diagnosis for Nanopanda that explains her previous episodes (structural airway defect that was misdiagnosed as asthma and exacerbated by the asthma medications).

But like I said, I'll think on it some more.
posted by telepanda at 7:09 AM on April 17, 2015


I do this too! I also take these great, heaving deep breaths, when my body notices. It's nearly a tic, I think. I do it so often that people notice.

I've just chalked it up to anxiety.
posted by functionequalsform at 7:38 AM on April 17, 2015


I'd also have to back up what others have said. I had never done this in the past. I've always been active, a runner, fit. Last Thanksgiving I broke my toe (bad enough to keep me pretty much off my feet for 12 weeks). Due to just discomfort, I ended up becoming quite sedentary.

As a result, stopping my running routine, and not working as much and thus having financial stress - over a year later I notice I've developed this habit. I slouch on the couch, feel stressed, anxious, and I find myself taking deep breaths in and holding (almost a stressful hold), while I think.

I think the answer may just be to get back up and moving, as hard as it is to do so especially after being inactive for so long.
posted by Strato at 9:58 AM on March 27, 2016


« Older Career advice for a jack of all trades?   |   Is this a good use for a travel agent, and if so... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.