I’ve shared with you in previous posts that I live with mild anxiety and one of my biggest challenges is being able to capture a full, deep breath.
The first time I had a panic attack, I honestly thought I was having a heart attack. My chest tightened and I couldn’t catch my breath. Since my motto as a mom is, “When in doubt get it checked out”, I did go to the Emergency Room and an EKG revealed a perfectly working heart. Thank goodness!
In addition to the panic attacks and anxiety I experienced after Larry died, all the heavy crying I did increased my difficulty in catching a deep breath.
When Larry died and my whole world fell apart I cried like I never knew a person could cry. Alone in the house while the kids were at school is when the grief poured out of me. With each deep sob I would unconsciously hold my breath until I was forced to take multiple shallow breaths.
I didn’t know it at the time, but what I was experiencing is called double breathing.
Double breathing after crying is a symptom of acute hyperventilation.
Basically you breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Excessive breathing (in my case the multiple shallow breaths) creates low levels of carbon dioxide in your blood. This causes many of the symptoms of hyperventilation.
Hyperventilation is a common side effect of crying, panic attacks or episodes of emotional stress. While double breathing after crying is normally safe if it occurs infrequently, it can be an alarming side effect for those who suffer from anxiety.
I had just suffered a great loss and my crying was daily. Over time the constant, deep cries, taxed my body in more ways than one.
It was during a session with my grief counselor that I explained to her that there were moments I felt I couldn’t catch my breath. She agreed it was common for someone to have difficulty breathing after experiencing grief. She recommended I practice deep breathing. Together we practiced a few deep breathing techniques in her office and I went home and found more online.
There are many videos on the internet on how to breathe properly but after all the ones I reviewed the one I favor the most is the method practiced by Dr. Andrew Weil, world-renowned leader of integrative medicine. It’s easy and can be done anywhere and at any time you feel the need to take a deep breath. No matter if I’m at home or out I can practice this deep breathing exercise the moment I feel as though I can’t catch my breath.
Dr. Weil refers to this as the 4-7-8 or relaxing breath exercise.
Here’s how you do it:
- Sit with your back straight (but not tense) and your feet on the ground. If you’re short like me you may have to scoot to the edge of your seat to plant your feet flat.
- Rest your arms at your side or gently on your lap.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose feeling your chest rise and mentally count to four. Sometimes I close my eyes to really concentrate.
- Hold your breath to a count of seven.
- Open your mouth and exhale completely through your mouth to a count of eight.
This is one full breath, repeat this three more times.
How does your body feel? Are you calmer? Are your breaths deeper?
Like my anxiety, I’m sure I’ll live with this for the rest of my life. Again, that’s ok. I’ve gained some wonderful resources along the way so it’s not something I fear will take over my life.
Again, if you have difficulty breathing that won’t subside or sharp pains in your chest, please seek medical attention immediately. As I mentioned in the post, Living with anxiety, your health is not something to be gambled with.
I pray every breath you take is a breath of fresh air.