Breathing with Anxiety

Breathing with Anxiety

Mindfulness makes me anxious.

As does the thought of anxiety or even simply breathing.

The two are intertwined in an enigmatic dance battle.

Am I the only person who has anxiety and asthma? Doubtful.

Has anyone had an asthma attack triggered by anxiety? I have.


I recently told my doctor I no longer needed my inhaler because I hadn't used one in all of 2018. Immunotherapy allergy injections seem to be working. I’m reacting less and haven’t needed daily allergy medicine. Leaving the doctors office I panicked - falling down the “what if” rabbit hole -almost triggered an asthma attack. The next day I had another close call with a cardio workout. I hadn’t gone at that pace in a good long while and had to challenge myself. Day 3, I called and retracted my “I don't need an inhaler” and without wanting to sound desperate explained my predicament and asked for a refill. I still haven't used/needed my new inhaler, 3 weeks later, but at least the thought of not having it is no longer making me anxious.

I was diagnosed with asthma as a child - mostly sports/allergy induced.

In my mid 20s, around the time I started experiencing IC (interstitial cystitis - see other posts for that fun bit of nonsense), I was also having hot flash type episodes - visual migraines - and a few blackouts, or fainting episodes - my skin would burn and turn bright red, I would feel totally overwhelmed and on fire resulting in an asthma attack. I’d have to use my inhaler, pop a benadryl, fall asleep  or pass out, for a couple hours to get back to functioning. It’s been at least one year since I’ve had an attack like this - which leads me to believe it was heavily allergy related, although, I may never know if it was food or my environment. I’m also okay with not trying to recreate the scenario just to experiment. 

My point is, I'm sensitive about my breathing. Add anxiety to the mess and most the time I feel like I'm breathing in water. When I first tried to practice Mindfulness, I remember feeling like I was breathing in acid. Directing my attention to my breath made me feel strangled.

Breathing shallowly, anyone ever practice that as a kid?

I used to hide under my covers and pretend to not be there when we’d play hide and seek holding my breath.

In middle school wanting to survive in the shadows.

I did that in high school hoping to be invisible.

I know when my dad lost his temper, if you didn’t move or breathe, you were less likely to take the brunt of his rage.

If I was silent nobody would judge or see me.

I know that at my first corporate job in college, I held my breath every time I walked through the halls to my desk praying nobody talked to me or saw me.

In college I was too angry and anxious to want anyone to talk to me so I’d scowl and hold my breath. However, wanting to be a TV journalist, I was taught diaphragmatic breathing - with your belly and not your chest - the breaths are fuller but still restricted.

Nobody, not even me, had ever made it OKAY to take a full breath.

Brene Brown would talk to me about my shame. The underlying reasons why I feel the need to retreat to an unseen state of invisibility. She’d talk to me about my anxiety and Duncan Sheik’s “Barely Breathing” pounds in my ears as my one hit wonder soundtrack.

Michael Boyle, fitness trainer and writer advocates for active breath - but maybe this is about more than exercise... Though I do try and hold my breath while doing anything fitness related. It's taken a lot of conscious effort fighting my body's natural urge to freeze in almost any situation. 

I’ve been combing through a book to help me understand and work through some of my anxiousness. Catherine Pittman and Elizabeth Karle in Rewire Your Anxious Brain: how to use the neuroscience of fear to end anxiety, panic & worry write:

“When people are anxious, they’re likely to breathe quickly and shallowly. They may not get enough oxygen, which produces an uncomfortable sensation. Hyperventilation can also result, due to expelling carbon dioxide too quickly, resulting in low levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. This can cause dizziness, belching, a feeling of unreality or confusion, or feelings of tingling in the hands, feet, or face.” Basically without correct breath the entire system can suffer in an array of symptoms.

Feeling stuck in my own Catch-22 I'll continue to try and breathe fully - knowing the more I do the less anxiety lives in my lunges and the better my body functions as I go about my day. I know I need oxygen to thrive so I’ll breathe, one inhale/exhale at a time.

Apple out,



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