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how to stop hyperventilating

Updated on October 11, 2014

Are You Hyperventilating?

Hyperventilation is a frightening condition characterised by rapid breathing, chest tightness and a feeling of not getting enough air. This condition can occur in response to a panic attack or asthma attack, or if it happens repeatedly, it can be more long term, known as chronic hyperventilation syndrome.

Some Facts On Hyperventilation

When you're hyperventilating you may feel like you're not getting enough air. In actual fact, your blood is as oxygenated as normal, which will be 100%. What you are not getting enough of, is carbon dioxide.

Hyperventilation is self-promulgating as the rapid breathing causes CO2 to fall below normal levels, causing respiratory alkalosis (high blood PH) which then impairs oxygen distribution, making you want to breath more deeply and more often.


What Do You Think?

If you suffer from hyperventilation syndrome what works best for you?

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Top 10 Tips To Stop Hyperventilation

Now I must start by saying that these are my methods that I've found work for me in varying degrees. As a sufferer of chronic hyperventilation syndrome I've had to live with the condition for a few months now, and these are my top 10 tips to stop hyperventilating.

1. Slow down your breathing.

This is not new advice. Most experts say to do the "7-11" breathing technique, which means breathing in for seven seconds then out for eleven. Personally, I find it impossible to use the "7-11" breathing technique during a hyperventilation attack. In the midst of chest tightening panic, I can't breath out for more than a few seconds without needing a great big deep breath again. So I use the "2-4" counting technique and increase the out-breath from there. I breathe in for 2 counts and out for 4, then in for 2 and out for 4. Once I've done this about ten times, I can extend the out breath to 5 or 6 counts, but I can seldom breath out for any longer than that. I've never understood how someone can breathe in for 7 seconds anyway, let alone breath out for 11. Don't worry if you feel like you aren't getting enough air, you are, and you won't pass out by doing these breathing exercises.

2. Force your diaphragm to relax.

Often my attacks are brought on by tension held in my stomach area. My tummy will be tight as a knot, and I'll be breathing shallowly from my chest, rather than from my stomach. Give it a little rub if necessary, just over your clothes. In the evenings, when you're in bed, try to give it a gentle massage to relax it, so it doesn't tense up as often.

3. Breathing in CO2

These days breathing into a paper bag is not advised, although breathing in your own out-breath definitely helps. I hold my hands over my mouth and breath into them for a few seconds. This helps to regulate your carbon dioxide levels and restore your blood PH, making it easier to breath normally. It may not be enough by itself to completely stop an attack, but it can help.

4. Walking or climb stairs.

If you're hyperventilating, it won't get worse with exercise, it will get better. Mild exercise increases the need for oxygen and can help restore normal CO2 levels, even temporarily. It may be enough to break the cycle of an attack.

5. Talk to someone.

This is a good one because not only does it force you to exhale for longer, but it also takes your mind off the hyperventilation. Phone a friend or a family member, or go and visit your neighbour, just talk. If you can laugh, even better.

6. Drink something, like a bottle of water.

I find that sipping from a litre bottle of water helps as it also slows down the rapidness of my breathing and restores normal carbon dioxide levels. Keep sipping every few seconds until your breathing slows down.

7. Chew something, like a sweet or chewing gum.

Even just eating something will help, for the same reasons as above.

8. Breathe through your nose.

This prevents you from inhaling as much air as you would through your mouth. It can feel restrictive, but it forces you to relax and slows your breath. Remember, you won't faint from lack of oxygen. Your blood is already 100% saturated.

9. Sing a song.

Put on the radio or TV and sing along. This restores normal carbon dioxide levels as it forces you to expel air slowly as you sing. The music will also help to distract you from your breathing.

10. Lie on your side, not your back.

I don't know if this is true for anyone else, but I often feel an attack coming on when I lie on my back. If I turn onto my side, it stops. I'm not sure why this is the case, but it seems to work for me. If anyone has any medical reason why this would make a difference, I'd be interested to hear it.

Hyperventilation is a horrible, debilitating and frightening condition but it is rarely life-threatening, especially since it is possible to get it under control.

With chronic anxiety conditions I find that the habit has to be broken before the condition improves. In order to do this, you have to keep halting these hyperventilation attacks and try not to worry too much about them. Worrying increases anxiety which makes them worse. Easier said than done, I know, but try to convince yourself it's not dangerous and you're not going to die.

Calm yourself, distract yourself and use the tips above to get it under control. Then get on with your day and try not to focus too much attention on them. In time, they will happen less and less and eventually stop.


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