Subconsciously holding your breath? Break this harmful habit

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stop subconsciously holding your breath

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If you find yourself subconsciously holding your breath during the day, you’re not alone. Many people are holding their breath without noticing, and it can be harmful to your health. Here’s why it happens and what you can do about it.

When we’re stressed, our bodies go into “fight or flight” mode. This is a natural response that helps us to deal with danger. Part of this response is to hold our breath, which gives us more energy to fight or run away. The problem is that we often hold our breath when we’re not in any actual danger. When this happens, it can contribute to a variety of physical symptoms including high blood pressure, stress on the heart, and headaches.

During “fight or flight” mode the body sends more blood to your muscles, and less goes to the brain. For this reason, we can also experience mental symptoms such as brain fog, lack of focus, and increased anxiety. So if you find that you’re subconsciously holding your breath during the day, when there’s no danger around, it’s time to make a change!

Why we hold our breath when stressed?

Personally I find myself holding my breath without realizing when I’m under extreme stress. I unconsciously hold my breath before high stakes situations, when things fall apart and don’t go as planned, or when I’m stressing over what to do next.

The reason we end up holding our breath without noticing when stressed is that the body views this as a form of self-defense. Our brains are wired for survival. When you’re in danger your breathing muscles tighten in an effort to hold your breath to save oxygen for more important functions, such as running away or fighting back. So if you find yourself subconsciously holding your breath when stressed, it means the body has changed its breathing pattern because of a fear or stress response.

We can experience these periods of heightened stress where our body perceives danger at work or in our personal lives. The stress can come from a variety of sources, such as deadlines at work, problems at home or financial worries. Our body can perceive any of these situations as danger and trigger us to hold our breath.

Side effects of subconsciously holding your breath when stressed

When we stop breathing the amount of oxygen in our bloodstream decreases and the amount of carbon dioxide increases. This is called hypoxia. Hypoxia symptoms vary depending on the severity. If your oxygen saturation is low, you might feel as if you can not breathe, or think clearly. Some other common side effects include:

  • Confusion & brain fog
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting or passing out
  • Anxiety and panic attacks

How subconsciously holding your breath affects your health

There’s good reason to be concerned about your health when it comes to chronic breath holding becoming a habit. If you have struggled with sleep apnea you’ll know the detrimental effects of not breathing. In essence, you are depriving your body of oxygen, its main fuel source. Without it, all the cells in your body are affected. It is no surprise then that holding your breath can have a significant impact.

In the short term, subconsciously holding your breath can affect your health and well-being and your ability to function at your peak. It can not only impact sleep, energy, memory, and learning, but it can also worsen depression, anxiety, and panic.

Over time, not deep breathing properly can contribute to inflammation, stress-related diseases, a weakened immune system, difficulty battling infection, and trouble mediating pain.