How can I get myself to breathe regularly like a normal person?
July 1, 2008 10:03 PM   Subscribe

I often find myself tensing muscles in weird ways, generally in my throat/chest/abdomen. It is uncomfortable, and it makes me feel short of breath, but I keep doing it. How do I stop?

I keep tightening up my abs, my chest, and my throat. I exhale until my chest hurts, squeeze up my stomach, swallow a lot or just tighten up my throat, and even make this weird humming noise. I tense up other muscles, too, but those urges don't bother me as much. It is the ones in my abs/chest/throat area that are the most disturbing because they are persistent and bothersome, and they leave me short of breath.

When I notice that I'm doing it, I try to stop, but I can't for long because I have to really concentrate and it takes some degree of will power to overcome the urges. It is exhausting. I also usually don't notice I'm doing these things until I've already started.

I feel like I've forgotten what it is to have a relaxed body and just breathe like normal person. I also can't imagine the extreme exhaling/irregular breathing thing can be good for the heart/lungs.

I've been doing these things for a long while now; I'm not really sure how or when they started. It must have been in the past few years. I've been under a lot of stress, having had to deal with some major losses in my life. Sometimes I wonder if the weird tensing thing is related to that, but I'm not sure, and I don't know how that could help me kick the strange, uncomfortable, stressful habit.

How do I stop doing this to myself?
posted by Alligator to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like a tic.
posted by sunshinesky at 10:17 PM on July 1, 2008

Whoa...this sounds like a job for a professional! Have you gone to a doctor or a therapist? It sounds a bit like OCD or the like. If you are hurting yourself - go get help!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:27 PM on July 1, 2008

I get into weird breathing patterns like that sometimes, mostly when I concentrate too hard on my breathing. I try to regulate it or take deep breaths on purpose and pretty soon I start to feel weird and tight chested and like I can't breathe like a normal person. Usually, I focus on not thinking about my breathing patterns- I get absorbed in something else and my body naturally fixes itself and goes about its business in the normal way, without my conscious interference. My little thing doesn't sound as bad as yours, but perhaps trying to consciously fix it is just compounding the problem. Your body can breathe perfectly well on its own; don't try to control the process.
posted by MadamM at 10:31 PM on July 1, 2008

When you breathe, do your shoulders rise and falll? I was taught to breathe deeply by breathing "from my stomach" - that is, my general stomach area rises and falls rather than my shoulders, but I don't know if others also learned that or if it was just a musician thing.

When your shoulders rise, it constricts your airways more. This is pretty random and doesn't solve your immediate problem, but it might help you relax if you learn to breathe deeply without constricting your upper body (that is, moving your shoulders/chest.) If that's not already the case.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:41 PM on July 1, 2008

It sounds like it could be psychosomatic.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:54 PM on July 1, 2008

You could try some sessions of Alexander Technique.
posted by HeroZero at 11:08 PM on July 1, 2008

Seconding Sunshinesky, especially since you mention humming, as well. Tics are indeed controllable for short periods, with a building of the feeling of the need to do the action until it seems unbearable. Tics are also exacerbated by stressful situations.

How about periods of time of excessive blinking or throat-clearing as a child? It is telling that the doctors most likely to be the first to diagnose tics in a child are eye doctors or eent docs.

Good luck--there are a lot of resources out there. Google tic disorders/Tourette Syndrome.
posted by thebrokedown at 4:20 AM on July 2, 2008

I'm sorry, I misspoke--I meant that eye doctors and ear-eyes-nose-throat guys are the first doctors generally consulted by parents when children start exhibiting tics, not that they are the first to diagnose the symptoms as tics.
posted by thebrokedown at 4:42 AM on July 2, 2008

Alexander Technique sounds like just the thing for you.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:41 AM on July 2, 2008

If you would like a little professional help that is tailored to breathing, you might also consider finding a biofeedback therapist.

They have fancy machines that they can use to measure your muscle tension, breathing pattern, etc, in stressful situations, target specific problem areas/habits, and can help you develop a new style of breathing. It can also be good for blood pressure, HRV and some other autonomic functions. I think it usually takes about 8-10 sessions for a general sort of breathing training/general learning how to relax routine.

I think the Tourette's diagnosis may be a little premature, though if more of the symptoms fit, you might consult a professional. It is probably, like you say, a bad habit way for your body to handle stressful situations.

You can find a biofeedback therapist by going to the BCIA website:

you can also read up about it there. Hope it helps!
posted by slopepheasant at 12:13 AM on July 3, 2008

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