Sunday, August 22, 2021

How to STOP Thinking About Your Breathing

Stop Thinking About Breathing
Photo by Cooper Baumgartner on Unsplash

A not so common issue when we start pranayama, breathwork, or when we simply do mindful breathing during a yoga class, is that sometimes it seems that we forget how to breathe. This can feel very uncomfortable and preoccupying. So here are a few simple tips to stop thinking about the breath and to allow it to become natural again. 

When breath awareness becomes an obsession

Some meditation or pranayama teachers recommend that we should try to be aware of the breath, at all times.  In my opinion, this is not very good advice, at least not for people that tend to struggle with anxiety.

I know, that might sound ironic since people start these practices to deal with anxiety and stress.

Well, it is important to focus on the breath when practicing meditation, yoga or when doing different breathing practices.  But after the practice is completed it's best to forget about breath and let if flow naturally, otherwise you risk becoming obsessed with it.

Seriously, if you start watching your breath constantly you might reach a point where you can't stop thinking about the breath. 

When this happens, the breath does not feel natural anymore but it seems to require our will to keep it going. It becomes mechanical.

That's because we are not just observing the breath but we are constantly thinking about the breath and doing the breath, even if we don't want to.

This can feel very uncomfortable and can be troublesome, especially for people dealing with anxiety as it can generate more anxiety or even a panic attack.

This obsession over the breath can also be the result of an episode of stress. Or because of going too far with different pranayamas or breathwork techniques that might affect the breathing pattern.  

Or it can happen from anything that makes you aware of the breathing process, like reading a book about breathing for instance.  

Whenever I'm reading a book that has anything to do with breathing I become constantly aware of my breath, with every page I read, until I finish the book.  

The same thing happened when I wrote the last two blog articles which were related to diaphragmatic breathing.  

Luckily, since I am very familiar with abdominal and diaphragmatic breathing, this does not become an issue for me anymore.  Although I might be constantly aware of the breath, it does feel natural and free.

But in the past, a situation like this would make my breath feel mechanical and restricted, and I would become anxious and agitated.  I just couldn't stop thinking about it.  

This is how I came up with the tips I mention below.  I have tried them all so I can assure you, they all work.  By following one or more of these tips, my breath would return, with a bit of time, to its normal automatic flow.

How to stop thinking about breathing

If you are struggling with this, don't be alarmed.  Stay calm. There is nothing to worry about. All you need to do is to forget about the breath to allow it to resume its natural rhythm.  

I know, the problem is that you can't forget about the breath.  So here are a few simple things you can do to stop constantly thinking about your breath.

  • Go for a fast run, do HIIT or any physical exercise, with intensity.  You will still be conscious of your breath during exercise, as the breathing rate increases.  But after you finish your workout you will relax and forget about the breath.  The breath will resume its natural rhythm without any effort then.  I've tried this many times and it always works.
  • If you like singing then this is the best time to try your favorite tunes out loud.  Don't be shy, it does help and it will also have a positive impact on your mood. 
  • Focus on any engaging activity that you like, like playing a musical instrument, painting, cooking, gardening, and so on.
  • Have social interactions.  Talking with friends live, or via video call, will easily help you forget about your breath, and about your problems in general.  Guaranteed.  Text messaging doesn't count.  You want to use your voice and you want to see the other person's body language.
  • Watch a good movie.  Maybe not a scary movie though, or one with too much suspense.  That could make things worst. Lol.
  • Practice a few rounds of kapalabhati, without any breath retention.  This is a very effective way to allow the breath to resume its normal rhythm, especially when the issue was caused by a too intense pranayama practice.  Been there, done that.
  • Practice belly breathing while laying on your back.  Like I mention in my previous blog, this is an excellent antidote against anxiety.  The breath will naturally relax in this posture.  Just make sure you are not doing chest breathing.  
  • Practice systematic relaxation while laying on your back.  Here you don't think about the breath but rather focus on moving the awareness through each body part.  You can try it right now with this free guided relaxation.
  • Learn diaphragmatic breathing.  Once your diaphragmatic breathing is established, even if you keep watching your breath for a long time, it won't be a problem.  It will always feel comfortable.  The problem is when the breath doesn't feel comfortable.  That's what makes us more anxious and agitated.

Conclusion: Stay calm

If you've been struggling with this issue then I hope this blog post will help you to breathe naturally and automatically again.  But until that happens, please, DON'T WORRY.  Stay calm.  Live your life and I can assure you that the breath will eventually resume its natural flow.  

The worst thing that you can do is to worry about it. The more you worry, the more obsessed about the breath you'll become.  Don't even try to stop thinking about it. Just let it be.  But following the tips I mentioned above will definitely help.  Trust me.

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  1. Replies
    1. Did u overcome thinking about breathing

    2. Hi Neela, I hasn't happen to me again in years. And if at any point I might struggle with it again I won't worry cause there is nothing to worry about. I know what to do.

    3. what we can do can u tell me??

    4. Everything that's written in this blog post.

  2. Man I'm currently experiencing this, my Dr has upped me on my anti anxiety meds so hoping the increased dosage will help. What helps me is chewing gum and always having some kind of background noise to focus on. Hope this helps

    1. Sorry to hear that. I hope you are doing better now. Remember, do whatever you can to stay out of your head. Too much time spend alone while struggling with anxiety makes matters worst.

  3. Thanks for the tips I am struggling with this some time hope I can recover

    1. I'm sure it's just anxiety. Don't give it too much importance to it. It will eventually go away. But just to be safe, see a doctor to rule out any hidden causes. I'm not a medical professional nor a therapist. Good luck. You'll be ok.

  4. I have been struggling with breathing for several months I can’t stop thinking about it it doesn’t help to watch a movie or gardening or anything I do doesn’t help.what must I do?

    1. Stay calm and be more socially active. Activities like gardening won't be helpful if you are struggling with too much anxiety. You need to get out of your head, so avoid stuff where you are alone with your thoughts. Engaging in conversation with friends and family is the best therapy. But please be aware that I'm not a therapist. Don't forget to consult your doc.

  5. I am facing this now. I haven't slept since 2 days even after sleeping medicines. I will try chewing gum.

  6. I don't think this always helps because most of the advice on here is to keep active and occupied but actually it only ever happens to me when I am not occupied nor active like first thing in the morning or when trying to relax and spend alone time. TBH it is not healthy or realistic to keep occupied all the time, all round the clock. That's like telling someone to run away from the problem rather than facing it and dealing with it.

  7. I have been struggling with this problem for some time now and it affects me a lot especially when I am working (I am an IT professional) or studying so it is negatively affecting me professionally and adding a lot of stress. I forget about it when I am in conversation with someone else but unable to concentrate on my work when I am on my own. I wish I never started meditation. Please suggest some ways to get back the original life if somebody has overcome this problem. Thanks for the guidelines in this article but most of these did not work for me.

  8. 3 years of this. Everyday. All day. Psych meds didn’t help at all. Literally ruining my life.

    1. So sorry to hear that. Please, read the article and my comment replies thoroughly and try to implement the suggestions I've given on a regular basis. They will definitely help you. Remember, there is nothing wrong with your breath or with you. Also, please be aware that I'm not a therapist. You need to consult your doctor.

  9. With me, this has been happening since Covid started. I lost my job, a lot of things happened to me, but now everything is fine with me, but now I am not able to divert my attention from breathing, I am thinking in my mind whether my breathing is right or not . Sometimes, I struggle to take a deep breath, it feels as if something has happened to me.

    1. Really sorry to hear that. But it is not surprising since it seems that you went through a lot of stress, on top of COVID which wasn't easy for anyone. Although things might be fine now perhaps your body is still stuck in that stress and needs to rebalance. Please read the blog thoroughly, my replies to other comments and try to implement my suggestions. There is nothing wrong with your breath, and nothing wrong with you. Don't give this too much importance. The more you do the more you'll obsessed about your breathing. But please be aware that I'm not a therapist. Don't forget to consult your doc.