Coping with fear: Breathing

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Coping with fear: Breathing

I’ve been reading up on techniques to handle anxiety and fear when they take over my thoughts and actions for a while now. One of the most simple techniques that keeps coming back in each and every resource I find about this topic, is breathing. It sounds crazy, but it truly is a very good technique, and from experience, I can explain why.

I’ve been an asthma patient since I was around 18 years old, so I have about 10 years of experience in managing and controlling my breathing when I have to. When I was first diagnosed with this condition, I had to learn to live with it. In that period of time, I’ve experienced several asthma attacks, but also more than one hyperventilation attacks. Sometimes I would get short of breath (because of my asthma), start panicking because of the shortness of breath, and turn that entire asthma attack into a hyperventilation attack because I lost control. We would arrive at the ER and I would tell them that I was experiencing an asthma attack, and although it was true to some extent (that’s what kickstarted my shortness of breath), my asthma wasn’t the main reason that I needed medical assistance. The main reason was the hyperventilation, which is nothing more than a panic attack.

Asthma symptoms can cause a very, very unpleasant feeling. Shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and to top it off, you feel as if your chest is shrinking within seconds. You gasp for air as you feel you need more oxygen (this is where the panic started). That makes you start breathing faster and faster, which in turn leads to the situation that your body lacks the time to process that oxygen and you start creating a deficiency in carbon dioxide which is causing even more shortness of breath. Kind of a vicious circle.

With my doctor’s help, I started to understand how breathing could help me control my asthma attacks and prevent hyperventilation attacks all together. It took me a while, but I learned how to control my breathing. Even today, when my asthma kicks in, and I don’t have my inhaler with me, I can control my breathing and buy myself the time needed to drive home or get to a nearby pharmacy. Without these breathing techniques, these sensations have the power to take over and to sky rocket those symptoms into a full blown asthma attack resulting in a few hours in the ER and a bunch of unnecessary medication. If you panic, you can get a hyperventilation attack to go with that.

So where am I getting at with all this? It’s simple. Breathing not only helps in a physical condition like asthma, it also helps in a psychological condition such as hyperventilation. Which is why it makes perfect sense, that breathing properly can also aid with anxiety and fear, which is also nothing but a mental state you’re in, at a specific point in time.

When fear kicks in, I tend to think only of worst-case scenario’s. What if Frank has an accident in the car and never comes home? What will I do without him? How will I ever overcome his loss? The more I think of these horrendous events, the more frightened I get, and the more I start panicking while I’m living through those emotions of this loss unnecessarily. Whenever these thoughts come to my mind, I kickstart my breathing mechanism. I focus on breathing in, and breathe out. I count the amount of time I spend breathing in and out, and because of that, there’s no room left in my mind to think of all those awful scenario’s I was imagining and playing in my head just seconds before.

I can hear you thinking: “How can you focus on your breathing? You don’t need focus to breathe.” No you don’t. But you can focus on your breathing as a tool to take control of your mind when it loses itself in anxious thoughts. The trick is to start breathing like this:

  • Breathe in during 2 seconds, breathe out for 2 seconds
  • Breathe in during 2 seconds, breathe out for 3 seconds
  • Breathe in during 2 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds
  • Breathe in during 2 seconds, breathe out for 5 seconds
  • Breathe in during 2 seconds, breathe out for 6 seconds

If you lie on the couch or on your bed, you should see your belly inflating while you breathe in, and deflating while you breathe out.

If you’re counting those seconds, focusing on every breath in, and on every breath out, you’ll notice that those anxious thoughts leave your conscious mind, at least during that moment. If you focus on your breathing long enough, you have the power to make them disappear completely. My advantage is that I’m already a ninja at breathing correctly because of my asthma. Because the most difficult thing in all of this is not the breathing in itself, it’s in remembering to focus on your breathing during moments like these. It’s been so many years for me, that I’ve already mastered this technique. I just need to apply it when I start feeling anxious. I’ve been trying this for a while now, and I can only confirm that it helps. It might not help you immediately, but remember that proper breathing requires training and time.

I hope this helps,


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1 comment:

Cassandra25/08/13 at 11:38 pmReply

I did quite a lot of yoga throughout my pregnancy which I believe really helped me with my breathing during labor, concentrating on breathing can be really therapeutic. I’ve gone though a few anxiety attacks during my loss and I forget that the simplest technique I can do for myself is breathing. Ill have to remember this !
Cassandra xx