Shallow mouth breathing behind my asthma and anxiety

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Three months ago I came in touch with Conscious Breathing when I participated in a 3-hour breathing course with Lina Alexanderson. Those three hours have changed my entire life. Thank you Lina! Previously I had always been very sensitive to cold weather and had been forced to take the maximum allowed dose of my asthma medication. When it was at its worst in the winter I couldn’t even walk 20 meters to the car before my airways constricted and I got short of breath and had an asthma-attack. You become so insanely limited when you cannot breathe well since breathing is so important in all activities we do. In the course, it became obvious that it was mouth breathing that had created my sensitive airways.


Strategy to deal with

anxiety and panic

Ten years ago I developed chronic anxiety. The triggering factor was physical abuse that put me in touch with old, unhealed wounds from my childhood. Now I understand that my breathing patterns have contributed to the anxiety. Our body remembers, right. As soon as we start to breathe with our mouth the breathing gets more shallow and faster and our body goes, “Ah, right. Here we go again,” and it ends up in a state of stress. When I breathe through my nose the breathing automatically becomes low and slow which creates calmness. This knowledge has brought about a fantastic turning point in my life.

Now I can breathe through my anxiety. You cannot imagine what a wonderful feeling it is. And it doesn’t apply only when I feel afraid, worried and anxious. No matter if I’m sad or happy, the breathing has been incredibly important to for me to be able to find the anchor within.

Before, I had no strategy and just broke down and started to hyperventilate when I got a panic attack. I had a feeling of total powerlessness when the panic took over, and it would last for 10-30 minutes, where I would just be lying and shaking. The psychiatrists told me it was just to stop hyperventilating. But that was impossible, since it was like something brutish and animalistic took over my system.

However, now I know how to get through the panic. I can let the panic come, let it wash through my body to then disappear, all in just one minute, which is absolutely amazing. Thanks to Conscious Breathing, I have learned what the feelings in my body are before, during and after. It has become easier and easier to recognize the signals before a panic attack and thereby stop it altogether before it can break out. Therefore, nowadays I very rarely end up in a state of panic.

Nasal breathing gives a lovely

feeling of calm and relaxation

No one from healthcare has ever asked me to reflect upon my breathing habits. However, from psychiatry I have been given the advice to breathe in a square when I get anxious — 3 seconds inhale, 3 seconds hold, 3 seconds exhale, and 3 seconds hold. I have heard countless times just to apply square breathing in order to get through the anxiety and panic. But it doesn’t work. It is like saying that it is just to eat three times a day to someone with poor eating habits.

In the breathing course I was taught how to breathe. It is about closing my mouth and breathing through my nose and using my diaphragm. When I close my mouth the stomach takes over. I experience a lovely feeling of calm and relaxation and almost a sense of weightlessness when I feel how the diaphragm on inhalation moves both to the sides and backward and forward. Nose breathing makes me feel much more unified and grounded. When I breathe through my nose and get in touch with my diaphragm it is almost like the time stops.

Both the theoretical understanding of what happens when we breathe and the simple guidelines for good breathing habits have helped me to develop a strategy that I can easily apply when the anxiety and the panic comes crawling. And it is not just an effective help in acute situations — it is just as much a way of preventing that the anxiety problems occur in the first place.

Conscious Breathing needs to

be a part of the psychiatry

Learning how to breathe properly has been really important in order to improve my mental health and it’s beyond me that this powerful tool is not used within the psychiatry setting. A deeper understanding of the importance of good breathing habits ought to be obvious knowledge within psychiatry, and the clients breathing habits should be the very first thing looked at, long before medications, electric shock etc.My experience is that the knowledge about breathing within psychiatry, unfortunately, is very limited and doesn’t go much beyond square breathing, which didn’t work for me. They have simply not understood the huge impact breathing actually has before, during and after an anxiety attack.

My asthma is

so much better

Anxiety and asthma are very closely related. My asthma problems started eight years ago, and among other things I’ve had big problems with mucus in my lungs. Before, I used to cough to the point where I threw up in order to get the mucus up. Thanks to Conscious Breathing I have much less mucus and the mucus I do have I can get it up in a much easier way.

Before, I took acute-action medication for my asthma 1-3 times per day, but now I only need it once a month or so. The drug contains adrenaline-like substances, and it is such a relief to be able to skip taking it because of the severe side effects that cause me terrible spasms in my calves and ribs.

Preventively, I also take anti-inflammatory drugs (cortisone). Recommended intake is two puffs per day, morning and evening. Two years ago, my asthma became worse and I increased to four puffs per day. The autumn of 2015 was really tough since I had a constant cold from the beginning of September to mid-November. So from September I increased to eight puffs per day, which is the maximum dosage. Since I started doing the breathing retraining I’m back to four puffs per day. My hope is, of course, to recover completely from my asthma and be able to quit with the cortisone-drug altogether. But when I discussed this with my doctor she said, “Do you want to die?” So I’ve felt a bit worried about reducing my medication further. Maybe it’s time to change doctors. I’m also curious to see what happens when the pollen season arrives and whether my improved breathing habits will have an effect on my allergies.

Heavy cleansing in

the beginning

In the first week, when I applied nasal breathing I experienced a vigorous, stabbing feeling in my nose that hurt a lot, similar to “thousand needles” but in your nose. And my nose just kept running and running. Apparently, it was not accustomed to being used that much, so I can understand the heavy reaction. Then it disappeared and I could breathe normally through my nose without any problems.

I also got such an incredible headache, some form of tension headache, and also aches in my sinuses. I couldn’t concentrate and felt saggy, as if I was about to get sick. The problems came as sure as fate after I started with all this. The first weekend I had a terrible nasty smell, like when having pneumonia but from the sinuses instead, so it was probably a form of cleansing reaction. The headache faded and more or less disappeared after a week, even though it came back now and then for a while longer.

The reactions occur where we’ve

had problems before

Lina advised me to read the article ”Can breathing retraining give rise to cleansing reactions?”, which helped me understand that reactions usually occur where we’ve had problems before. Since I have had problems with tension headaches and regular migraine attacks for many years, the headache probably meant that my body was in the process of healing. I have not had a single migraine attack since I started to do breathing retraining. And since I had given up being able to breathe through my nose many, many years ago, it doesn’t surprise me that I got cleansing reaction from my sinuses. I’ve had problems with my sinuses throughout my childhood and even as an adult. It is said the there are “ear-infection-children“. Well, if that is the case I was a “sinus-infection-child”.

Since it still felt good to do breathing retraining with the Relaxator, because I became so incredible calm and centered by using it, it was worth both the headache and sinus pain. And since I assumed it would ease up, I continued to hang in there.

The winter is no

longer a torment

Where I live it could be as cold as minus -25 Celsius (minus -13 Fahrenheit) in the winter. To even be able to go outside in the winter I have been forced to use a device called a Lungpulse Heat Exchanger. Thanks to nasal breathing I can now be outdoors without needing to use my Lungpulse. I can even go biking in the winter. It was impossible before since it led to an asthma-attack, and I would have to stop and rest for a couple of minutes, until the asthma-attack was over, and then slowly lead my bike home.

Switching to nasal breathing was no big deal at all, since it’s the natural way of breathing. The only thing is that I sometimes have forgotten to close my mouth. When I close my mouth, my belly breathing takes over more and more. One thing I have noticed is that when I talk my breathing gets worse. I guess it is because I have my mouth open when I talk and breathe faster and more irregularly.

Sleep like

a goddess

Taped mouth at night works really well. Before, I used to snore a lot. I slept restlessly and woke up during the night, and in the morning I woke up with a cold. When I got really sick with the flu in January (see below) I lost the breathing retraining routine and stopped taping. However, after a while it felt like something was missing, and when I started taping my mouth shut again I immediately noticed what a great effect it actually has. I have stopped snoring, lie more still during the night, and don’t wake up with a sore throat in the morning. I sleep like a goddess, like a little baby. Amazing.

I am so thankful

for my Relaxator

Both at the physiotherapist’s and the health center, I have been given different devices that give resistance on the out breath to help me get the mucus out of my lungs, for instance. One variation is to blow in a bottle of water, although it is not very user-friendly. Another variation is a device that looks like a pipe and gives a resistance. The problem was, however, that I never used it but kept postponing using it. The resistance level had to be adjusted according to daily fitness level and activity, and it was a major difference in resistance needed, depending on if I was watching TV, washing the dishes or was out walking. In order to change the resistance a lot of accessories were needed and I also had to dismount the device. The reason why I didn’t use it is simply because it was too clumsy.

As a comparison, the Relaxator is very smooth since the resistance can be adjusted so easily. It just takes a second or two. It is also easy to carry with you hanging around your neck on the lanyard or tucked in your pocket since it’s so small. The Relaxator being so small and convenient has been absolutely crucial to the fact that I’ve actually started to do the breathing retraining. Really great!

I always carry the Relaxator with me and I use it in many situations in my everyday life — when I do different household chores, when I’m out walking and biking, when I study or participate in lectures. The Relaxator gives me an inner calmness and makes me more focused and concentrated. It is also a great device for getting the mucus out of my lungs and when having dry cough, since it is effective to help me quit coughing. The Relaxator also helps my body to find its natural breathing tempo when I engage in physical activity, which stops me from going too hard and crossing the line.

Got really sick when

using nasal spray

By the end of January 2016, when I had been doing breathing retraining for two months, I got the flu and had a fever for 10 days. Ever since I got asthma eight years ago, I’ve regularly been affected by the flu, despite having taken flu vaccines. Every time I’ve had the flu I’ve also had pneumonia. But to my great joy, not this time!

As long as I skipped taking nasal spray it worked absolutely fine to breathe through my nose, since my sinuses stayed clear all by themselves. This has never happened before when I’ve gotten the flu. But then, I was convinced by the staff at the pharmacy to take nasal spray and I had a big setback. Both my nose and sinuses became totally swollen, and it even went up into my eyes and head. I tried for two days with the nasal spray, just so make sure it wasn’t a coincidence, which it unfortunately wasn’t. As soon as I stopped using the spray it took less than a day to get well again.

One of the best things

that has happened to me

I talk about the advantages of Conscious Breathing to everyone I know. It is not my medications that have made me better; it is the Relaxator, taped mouth at night and nasal breathing during daytime. I wish I had gotten this simple knowledge 10 years ago when my anxiety problems started…

It is so insanely wonderful to be able to breathe through my nose again, so it is not even possible to describe how happy I am! My breathing is calmer, my mouth is not dry anymore and my asthma mucus is not as sticky and tough to get up. I still have a long way to go but it is still one of the best things that has happened to me.

Pernille Vestberg, 32, Occupational Therapist, Sundsvall, Sweden
March 2016

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