Healthy Breathing: How to Break Bad Breathing Habits

Breathing is something we all do, but bad breathing habits are becoming more common. Improper breathing can slow down your brain, cause fatigue and muscle strain, and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

What Causes Bad Breathing Habits?

Bad breathing habits, such as shallow breathing and holding the breath, are often subconscious. We may breathe badly under stress or while concentrating on a task, or because of an illness.

Causes of improper breathing may include:

  • poor posture
  • anxiety
  • muscle tension, especially in the neck, shoulders and throat
  • chronic or recurrent sinusitis
  • allergies
  • blunted blood pressure response
  • obstruction to the throat, nose or sinuses (foreign object or physical abnormality)
  • underlying medical or psychological condition (such as TMJ disorder or obsessive/compulsive disorder)
  • sleep disorder such as sleep apnea

Improper breathing causes tension, worry, and fatigue. Bad breathing prevents proper blood flow and impairs oxygen flow to the muscles, as well as the brain and other vital organs. The heart works harder and tires more easily. Improper breathing can make you feel winded when climbing stairs, even if you’re in good shape, and can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Bad breathing affects the vocal cords, larynx and voice, and is especially harmful to singers, and others who depend on the voice.

Improper breathing can be a self-generating condition. For example, someone may breath badly because of an anxiety disorder, and anxiety may intensify due to poor breathing, making it even harder to breath. Bad breathing can be a vicious circle.

Allergies and other conditions such as sinusitis can interfere with proper breathing, and again the body may lapse into bad breathing habits. Poor posture can lead to improper breathing due to pressure and stress on the neck, throat and chest.

When we’re under stress mentally or physically, our breathing becomes quicker and more shallow. The mind is on high alert. Usually, these symptoms vanish when the stress disappears. Sometimes, a person continues the carry the stress of an incident, even if the stressor is no longer there. The brain begins to perceive this as a normal condition. As in cases of ongoing or repetitive stress, the mind and body may adopt bad breathing habits.

How to Breathe Properly

Breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth. Take regular, deep breaths. Don’t hold your breath.

How to Stop Bad Breathing Habits

Check with a doctor or other health professional to rule out any physical problems, or health disorders such as sleep apnea.

To correct bad breathing habits, awareness is the key. Since improper breathing habits are often subconscious, the more you’re aware of them, the faster you can fix them. It’s not easy at first, and you may have to focus a lot of energy on remembering to breathe properly. If you have a bad breathing habit, remember that it took awhile to become a habit, and it may take some time to correct.

Whenever you find yourself taking shallow breaths or holding your breath, stop for a moment. Breathe deeply in through your nose. Breathe out through your mouth. As you breathe out, feel the tension easing from your throat, jaw and tongue. Take at least three breaths this way, then get back to whatever you were doing. If you do this every time you catch yourself in a bad breathing habit, your mind and body will begin to modify the breathing process and form good habits.

At least twice a day, stop and take time to focus on breathing. To help develop and maintain good breathing habits, try:

  • deep breathing exercises
  • posture correction
  • stress relief in the neck, jaw, throat, shoulders (stretches and/or massage)
  • yoga or t’ai chi
  • self-hypnosis or hypnotherapy
  • moderate cardiovascular exercise, such as walking. Please read Walking for Weight Loss, Health and Pleasure.

For tension relief, you may also want to read Five Easy Exercises and Ten Healing Tips for a Stiff Sore Neck.

Keep at it!

Subconscious habits are hard to break. At first you may find that you slip back into bad breathing habits as soon as you stop thinking about breathing. This is frustrating but normal. It takes a little time to retrain the body and mind. Keep at it, and you’ll soon reap the rewards.

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