244. Breathe


In– two, three, four.

When others get tight and breathe like rabbits–fast and short, I have an automatic response that I learned about twenty years ago. I breathe deeply, slowly, and methodically for my benefit and sympathetically for the other person. Maybe I always did it and just came to awareness then. Can’t be absolutely sure. I just know that deep breaths help me reset the tension needle lower on my side of any interpersonal equation. It’s a natural reaction to breathe deeply after one gets out of a messy situation by dodging real or imagined bullets.  “Whew!  The guy with the gun is  your husband? He missed me.” A deep breath reassures one’s body that you are alive and not leaking blood or air or other substances. It’s a systems check.

“The Enterprise is travel worthy. Warp nine, Scotty.”

“Aye, aye. Cap’n. Uh, Cap’n. I think Sulu is gay.”

“Scotty, everyone knows that. Get over it.”

“But I’m a Scotsman, Cap’n. I’ll need a wee bit of Scotch to wet me whistle.”

“Just breathe, Scotty.  And remember, Spock is asexual. And I have an abnormal attraction to Klingons, not the psychobilly  group from the 80’s either.”

Others might not like seeing you breathe this way, especially if they just shot some lead or fazers at you. It may appear to be dismissive or judgmental of the other, as if you are blowing them off, as if they are too high maintenance. Like they are Romulans even. And maybe that’s the fully oxygenated truth. However, what deep breathing actually does on the physiological level is to calm your fight or flight reaction, slow down breathing and pulse, open blood vessels, increase oxygen to your muscles and organs, and reduce sweating and adrenaline production. It’s one conscious act that impacts many unconscious or autonomic reactions.

When I was a teacher, the speech unit was always a challenge for my students. It was not unusual for kids to try to avoid their speech date by being absent. On more than one occasion I had a kid faint in mid speech because he or she  “forgot” to breathe. Actually their fear overrode their ability to think and remain upright. Adrenaline overrode balance, and vertigo kicked in to reset the system.

Episodes of vasovagal response are typically recurrent, and usually occur when the predisposed person is exposed to a specific trigger. Prior to losing consciousness, the individual frequently experiences early signs or symptoms such as lightheadedness, nausea, the feeling of being extremely hot or cold (accompanied by sweating), ringing in the ears (tinnitus), an uncomfortable feeling in the heart, fuzzy thoughts, confusion, a slight inability to speak/form words (sometimes combined with mild stuttering), weakness and visual disturbances such as lights seeming too bright, fuzzy or tunnel vision, black cloud-like spots in vision, and a feeling of nervousness can occur as well. The symptoms last for a few seconds before the loss of consciousness (if it is lost), which typically happens when the person is sitting up or standing. When sufferers pass out, they fall down (unless this is impeded) and, when in this position, effective blood flow to the brain is immediately restored, allowing the person to regain consciousness; if the person does not fall into a fully flat, supine position, and the head remains elevated above the trunk, a seizure may result from the blood’s inability to return quickly to the brain. Fainting occurs with the loss of oxygen to the brain.[4] (Wikipedia)

I wish I’d known all that back then. It could have been an object lesson on the value of oxygen for your brain and balance.

So, breathing deeply is a good insurance policy. It’s a strange thing that in our busy, stressful lives we sometimes “forget” to breathe or we get out of sync with our body’s natural needs. We are complicated creatures indeed. Folks who have panic attacks believe incorrectly that they cannot draw a full, deep breath. They convince themselves that they are having some sort of cardiac episode and head to the local Emergency Room for reassurance. It’s not unusual for the panicked heart to settle down in the hospital parking lot. “Oh thank God, we’re here.” And the symptoms recede.

During a panic attack you tend to over-breathe (hyperventilate). If you over-breathe you blow out too much carbon dioxide which changes the acidity in the blood. This can then cause more symptoms such as confusion and cramps, and make palpitations, dizziness, and pins and needles worse. This can make the attack seem even more frightening, and make you over-breathe even more, and so on. It can sometimes result in a faint. A panic attack usually lasts 5-10 minutes, but sometimes they come in waves for up to two hours. (Patient website.)

Occasionally when I am hunting I’ll hold my breath in order to heighten my hearing. Sitting completely still in a tree stand, I ‘ll hold my breath and strain my eyes and ears for any clue of an approaching deer. That’s a special occasion in a still December morning. Finally the exhale comes in steam. It takes a few more breaths to get the rhythm back to autopilot. It’s truly amazing when you consider how much work your brain does. Like right now it’s tracking an itch in the little toe of your right foot while simultaneously processing the music on your laptop as you read this post. Some actions can be postponed or ignored, but not breathing. It’s non negotiable.

So here are the take away bullet points. 1. Breathe or die. 2. Others may think you are a rude alien when you deep breathe in front of their frothing anxiety. 3. If you forget to breathe, you’ll likely faint and wind up on someone’s Facebook page with a snarky comment under your prostrate body, which could keep you from getting your first job after college. 4. Breathing is better than panic…but so is root canal surgery. 5. Deep breathing is free and easy to do. It’s the first and last thing you do in life.