Overbreathing causes depression, stress and anxiety

Lower carbon dioxide within the blood causes a constriction of the carotid artery which is the main blood vessel going to the brain. The extent of constriction depends on genetic predisposition but has been estimated by Gibbs (1992) to be as much as 50% for those with anxiety and panic attacks. This finding is also supported by Ball & Shekhar (1997)

Other researchers including Balestrino & Somjen, 1988; Huttunen et al, 1999 have demonstrated that CO2 reduces cortical excitability. Cited in Normal Breathing- the key to vital health; “breathing too much makes the human brain abnormally excited due to reduced CO2 concentrations. As a result, the brain gets literally out of control due to appearance of spontaneous and asynchronous (“self-generated”) thoughts. Balestrino and Somjen (1988) in their summary directly claimed that, “The brain, by regulating breathing, controls its own excitability“.

Dr Robert Fried, professor of psychology states that “the first stage of chronic graded hypoxia, (insufficient oxygen) which has repeatedly been shown in the case of chronic hyperventilation is depression of mood and activity. (The Hyperventilation Syndrome- Robert Fried)   

Cardiologist Claude Lum comments that; “Hyperventilation presents a collection of bizarre and often apparently unrelated symptoms, which may affect any part of the body, and any organ or any system.” He further labels hyperventilation syndrome as the fat file syndrome noting that patients go from doctor to doctor in an attempt to get help for their symptoms. However, because chronic hyperventilation is overlooked in most instances, the patient might be told after a series of tests that there is nothing wrong with them, thus increasing the size of the patients file and further adding to their anxiety.

In the late Professor Buteyko’s words “Exhaling Carbon Dioxide from the organism brings about spasms in bronchi, vessels and intestines etc. This reduces Oxygen supply leading to Oxygen deficiency making one breathe heavier, thus completing the vicious circle.”

So what is the fat file syndrome?

Louise’s account;

“For example, because I am prone to worry and overthink things. I got myself worked up into a right state about my symptoms. I was convinced at different times that I had a brain tumour, MS, a heart problem, bowel cancer etc. I had blood test after blood test, an ECG test, a scan, and nothing was found to be wrong. My whole family and my doctor, and probably most of my friends, think I’m a hypochondriac…but I knew there was something not right. I just didn’t make the connection to my breathing, so my symptoms went on and on and I felt like I was going mad. For lots of people, reading your book will be a real epiphany…and they might need some reassurance early on that they’re not alone and not mad after all. Also that a lot of the symptoms will go away. Stopping worrying about the symptoms immediately reduces the stress levels and hence the breathing rate.”


Stress, anxiety and anger causes overbreathing

According to the famous physiologist Walter Cannon, stress activates the fight or flight response. Meeting deadlines, financial pressures, time urgency, marital issues, pressure of rearing children, doing well in our work and many other factors add to stress levels.

Long term stress is exhausting and it is known to result in many illnesses. It increases breathing volume causing a loss of carbon dioxide. Overtime this resets the respiratory centre in the brain to tolerate a lower level of carbon dioxide thus continuing the cycle of heavy breathing.


Stress ensures survival of the species

Stress is a natural reaction which we have developed throughout our evolution to ensure survival of our species. It is invariably our body undergoing chemical change in response to environmental conditions. Thousands of years ago, our main threat was from a wild animal.

When confronted we had two options to deal with it. The first was that we fought it, the second was that we ran away from it- as fast as we could. As our bodies were required to perform intense physical activity, our physiology changed in the following way; 

  • Our breathing volume increases
  • Our heart rate increases
  • Adrenaline is pumped into our system
  • Our pupils dilate
  • Blood is diverted from internal organs to our arms and legs
  • Diarrhoea may occur (lightens our weight before flight)
  • Our blood coagulates in case of injury

However, today our society and environment has changed at a far greater pace than what our bodies can adjust to. We react to stress of today with the same reaction as we did thousands of years ago. We are in a traffic jam rushing to get to a meeting. The fight or flight response is activated but there is no need for it. Our heart rate increases, blood is diverted to skeletal muscles, our breathing increases- we are primed for physical activity but yet we are sitting still. The result is we are running on the inside and sitting on the outside.

The heavy breathing arising from the fight or flight response results in a washing out of carbon dioxide from the lungs. This causes a narrowing of blood vessels thus reducing blood flow to the brain. In addition, the release of oxygen from blood cells is less due to an inhibited Bohr effect. This in turn increases self generated and more random thoughts.  With uncontrolled thought activity, we feel unable to cope in everyday activities and this further increases our anxiety. A vicious circle has commenced with stress increasing our breathing with this in turn feeding our stress.  

It is only by bringing your breathing volume to normal levels that you deal with the physiological aspects of stress and anxiety. Undischarged stress is so bad for the organism and this is principally due to the adaptation to a habit of overbreathing. Level and correct breathing allows a normalisation of the partial pressure of carbon dioxide within the lungs thus improving oxygenation of the brain and resulting in far less brain cell excitability. 

How many of the following symptoms of hyperventilation do you have?

  • Respiratory system: wheezing, breathlessness, coughing, chest tightness, frequent yawning, snoring and sleep apnoea.
  • Neurological: light-headed feeling, poor concentration, memory lapses, faintness, headache, anxiety, tension, racing mind, depression, apprehension, brain fog, panic attacks, disrupted sleep, detachment from reality, and stress.
  • Heart: palpitations, a racing heartbeat, pain in the chest region, and a skipping or irregular heartbeat.
  • Gastronintestinal: Reflux

Other general symptoms include mouth dryness, fatigue, bad dreams, nightmares, dry itchy skin, sweating, cramping, spasm, increased urination such as bed wetting or regular visits to the bathroom during the night, diarrhea, constipation, general weakness and chronic exhaustion.

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