Aware of Breathing

Around 10 years ago, I was watching a Mets baseball game at home and suddenly became aware of my breathing. Throughout the whole game I had to consciously make myself breathe in and out. Eventually I must have gotten tired and went to sleep and had forgotten about the whole incident by the next morning. About seven years later I was driving on the New Jersey Turnpike and the same thing happened. By the time I had reached my destination, again, I had forgotten about the incident. However, about a month ago I awoke and suddenly was aware of my breathing again, and since then I have had to basically make myself breathe in and out. I know this must sound very strange, but it is true. I was surprised to find out others also have gone through the same thing. Just google “aware of breathing.” Obviously, I have no explanation for this.

As you can imagine, this has made it very hard to enjoy such simple things as watching TV or listening to music. On a few occasions I became so engrossed in something I was doing that my breathing returned to normal. But after this, it reverted back to the same old thing. I have difficulty going to sleep, but once I do, I breathe normally. This indicates to me that there is nothing physically wrong with me. But as soon as I wake up, I have to breathe for myself again. I have been to the emergency room twice. They both checked my lungs, and I had a chest x-ray. All things are normal in that regard.

Anyone with a similar experience and what they did about it?

Looks like a lot of people on the web are attributing it to anxiety. Do you think that could be your problem?
If I were you I’d try either exercising vigorously or holding your breath until your reflexes kick in and your body takes over. It’s not like you can die from forgetting to breathe unless you have a very strange disorder like Ondine’s curse (but you would know if you did)

I don’t have Ondine’s curse because I sleep fine, when I can get to sleep, that is. The first two times I had no anxiety. This time I do. I’ve taken Xanax and Clonazepam, but other than making me drowsy and just a little bit less anxious, they have no effect. I have tried holding my breath and of course I eventually breathe again, but then it’s right back to the same old thing of having to breath “manually.” And this has been going on for 6 weeks, so I don’t think I can stop it. I am terrified.

Just out of curiosity, how did you become aware that people on the web are discussing this?

This happens to me on a relatively regular basis…I mean not like ALL the time, but definitely like, once a month, maybe every two months…I don’t know, I don’t keep track. I am aware of my breathing now for example, since you brought the subject up.

I highly doubt it’s anything to worry about and your body is not going to “forget to breathe” while you’re unconscious, as others have already pointed out.

Just keep breathing and eventually the feeling will pass!

ETA: Could these be mild panic attacks (as you mentioned you’re on medication for anxiety)? I’m just wondering since you said it terrifies you.

It’s known as a Sensorimotor Obsession as described here.

Encouragingly it ends with discussion of effective treatments that don’t involve medication.

It’s been happening to me every time I see this thread dammit.

Thankfully it goes away within a few minutes, but I hope this thread dies soon. No offense.

Well, as I said, when I sleep everything is okay, so I am not worried about forgetting to breathe while I am unconscious. And in the past the feelings did pass pretty quickly. But not this time. What I am terrified of is that this time they won’t pass, and I cannot function like this forever.

But truly, thanks for the encouraging words!

Not to make light of your issue, but you realize some of us Zen people spend years trying to learn to be more aware of our breathing?

In all seriousness, though, this sounds like an anxiety-related thing. Chances are good that when if first started happening, you mistook your awareness for control (or lack of control depending on how you look at it.) It was thinking about it later that made you fear it would return, which of course only intensified your anxiety and the likelihood it would return. Since you’ve been checked out by the doctor and everything seems functionally normal, I would recommend speaking to a mental health professional. I’ve suffered anxiety all my life and I know it is no fun - but you have to arm yourself with the facts (there is nothing functionally wrong with me, my body will breathe when it needs to, etc) and you deserve to live a life free from this fear.

It sound to me like a case of self-awareness. I have had panic attacks and part of it tends to be extreme focus on something. It can breathing, swallowing, seeing or any normal automatic or semi-automatic function. It can even be your heart. You can literally worry your heart into beating faster.

If you stop to think about all the automatic things we humans do, it simply impresses me how amazing the human body is.

I took a yoga class once and part of the relaxation was to count the number of times you breathe in a minute. I CANNOT do this. As soon as I start to count, I stop breathing then start and it’s very irritating that I can’t do this. I can’t get a normal breathing count for myself.

I’ve experienced a lot of what Markxxx mentioned

The breathing awareness happens to me pretty regularly, sometimes several times in a day.

I also sense heart flutters that aren’t there (or at least didn’t show up when I was monitored for 8 hours).

And I’ve had really weird experiences where I’m unable to swallow. I have really think about it and force it.

What’s so weird is that they all “strike” when I’m calm, not doing or thinking about worrisome things. They CAUSE anxiety, but I don’t understand how they are caused by anxiety.

I had the same thing with sniffing. It progressively got worse over a year, and I thought something was wrong with my nose. I went to numerous doctors and everything was fine. I sounded like a crack user (don’t they sniff stuff?) and was totally ready to cut my nose off.

I found out it was a physical form of my anxiety and very normal. They prescribed anti-depressant medicine, it helped (the sniffing also became a habit on top of the anxiety). I got my anxiety under control and my doctor weened me off the medicine…NO MORE SNIFFING!!!

What do you to when the breathing awareness happens? How do you return to normal?

The thing is you trained your body to be aware of it and you can train your body to be UNAWARE of it.

It’s hard but it can be done.

The easiest way is distraction. Once you stop thinking about it you won’t remember to think about it.

A technique that is used it behaviour modification.

Tell you self STOP! Then think of the word CALM C-A-L-M. You can also increase this by saying STOP! And stamp your foot. Some people try saying STOP! And then snapping a rubber band on their wrist. The physical paiin will distract you.

When my anxiety attacks were horrible, I actually said “STOP!” And I took a safety pini and jammed it in my leg.

THAT WORKED. OK that’s extreme but it shows what is happening.

There is a wonderful book for learning behaviour modification techniques. It’s called Stop Running Scared, it’s out of print but you can get it off Amazon or maybe your library will have it.

You will also find most anxiety attacks can be helped by various anti-depressants. I always responded well to them. I don’t take them now, so you don’t have to be on them for life.

What the anti-depressants drugs do is they allow you to COPE with behaviour till you can change it

For instance, I had a HORRIBLE fear of flying. Paxil enabled me to get on a plane. The thing was, you cannot get over a fear of flying, unless you actually get on the plane. My fear was so great I couldn’t even make it to the gate, much less get on a plane. But Paxil enabled me to be calm enough to go on the plane.

Today I can fly without any meds. I still don’t like to fly, but I can do.

In the OP case, when you are aware you’re breathing what’s likely to happen is you will overbreathe. This means hyperventilation. This causes symptoms such as the “pins and needles” sensation, and you feel like you can’t breathe at all.

A way around this is to breathe into a bag, or you can cup your hands and breathe into them. Or simply close your mouth. It’s very difficult to overbreathe and hyperventilate through your nose.

My advice to the OP is to go to your GP. Get a COMPLETE checkup. This is a must for anxiety victims. You have to be assured that there IS NOTHING wrong with you.

So when problems start you can say “This is distressing but not dangerous” and “I will live through it”

Then I would go see a counselor. If you can’t afford it, go to your county (if in the USA) website and look for mental health clincs. Most have sliding fee scales available.

After about a minute of panic, I take very deep breaths, holding for a sec before exhaling fully. It usually takes at least 3, I think.

And I also tell myself to calm down.

I actually think this particular symptom is really common. I’m sure ever person in this thread thought about and deliberately controlled their breathing for a little bit after reading the title.

The problem isn’t that you are thinking about your breathing. It’s that you are worried that, if you don’t do it, you’ll stop breathing. This is false, and you can prove it to yourself. The flooding method would just be to hold your breath until you pass out, at which point you will automatically start breathing again, and come to. A more gradual method I prefer is just to stop trying to breath at all without actually holding your breath. Just go on and do something that completely distracts you.

Oh, and before you begin, if you’ve been breathing too fast and feel light headed, slow down your breathing first. But after that, do it. Your lizard brain will likely get the message pretty quickly after only a few repetitions. But don’t worry if it doesn’t–you just likely need a little bit more help: hence a therapist. But if you aren’t actually panicking, it’s probably overkill.

I had a bit of sensorimotor obsession with my pulse/heartbeat about three years ago…really drove me nuts, including the precipitation of panic attacks, which then caused, well, obviously, a quickening of my pulse and a spike in my blood pressure. Got bad enough that I thought I was having heart attacks. I went to the ER on three separate occasions for fears of heart attack, to be hooked up and tested (blood, xrays, EKG, etc…) and told that everything was fine. Also saw my family doc twice about these and other stress induced symptoms (with most of the stress caused by my obsession…caused a nice feedback loop) and again was given “you’re just fine.”

Finally, I had to force myself to realize that I was inducing panic attacks, which often mimick H.A. symptoms, and that I wasn’t about to drop dead. Eventually I got the panic attacks under control (basically through sheer will), and shortly thereafter stopped thinking about my pulse and have had a much happier existence since then. Took me about a year and a half before I finally was comfortable enough with the doctors’ diagnoses to really convince myself that it was self induced. Was scary and nervewracking to say the least. I can imagine doing it with breathing could be an issue if it became a very common occurrence for you. It’s hard to do, but try and force yourself not to think about it… :slight_smile:

All good advice - a counsellor who works with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) would be the most useful in dealing with something like this, which, I agree, is an anxiety issue.