Breathing tips for when you’re panicking

If you follow my Instagram stories, you already know the unfolding Situation I Refuse to Name has put me in a very anxious state.

For example, I drove myself to the drugstore in PJs, late at night, panicking that I was having a food allergy reaction and needed antihistamines urgently. (I do not have any known food allergies — just imaginary ones when my anxiety is bad and right now it’s REAL BAD, GUYS.)

I bought the damn antihistamines and took them, even though I knew I probably didn’t need them, but because I needed SOMETHING to calm me down and convince me I (probably) wasn’t going to stop breathing because I’d stupidly taken a bite of my husband’s Hawaiian pizza when my anxiety was already off the charts and pineapple is a weird I-think-I-might-be-allergic trigger for me.

But you know what? My chest has been tight almost nonstop since Thursday night, and I can’t blame the pineapple.

It’s anxiety.

I am no stranger to panic attacks, but I have never had such a CONSISTENT obsession about my breathing (and lack thereof) as I’ve had over the last three days.

Even though I KNOW it’s because I’m panicky, it’s still an awful, scary feeling. This article on explains it well.

During an emergency, our breathing rate and pattern change. Instead of breathing slowly from our lower lungs, we begin to breathe rapidly and shallowly from our upper lungs. It can produce a phenomenon called “hyperventilation.” This in turn can explain many of the uncomfortable symptoms during panic: dizziness, shortness of breath, a lump in the throat, tingling or numbness in the hands or feet, nausea, confusion.

It’s like when you suddenly THINK about breathing — often while lying in bed at night — and then suddenly you don’t know if you’re doing it right. Wait, have I always breathed like this? Is this what I’m supposed to do? Am I breathing normally right now?!

I know, in the coming days, weeks, etc. I’m going to have lots of these moments, so I wanted to print off some reminders. YES, I NEED A CHEATSHEET FOR BREATHING and I don’t care who knows it.

And so, on this sunny Sunday morning, I am putting together this breathing cheatsheet in the form of a blog post. I was just making it for myself at first, and then I realized that some of you may want it, too.

Healthline has a great article called “9 Home Treatments for Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea).” There’s a lot of good advice in there, but here are the most useful things I took away from it:

“Pursed-lip breathing” is when you relax your neck/shoulders, breathe through your nose for two seconds (keeping your mouth sealed shut) and then purse your lips (like you’re whistling) and breathe out slowly for four seconds.

This study shows that blowing a fan in your face can also help when you feel like you can’t catch your breath. I own lots of fans! Yes, I’ll do this!

Medical News Today has a good piece about 4-7-8 breathing. I’ve heard of this before and probably tried it, but then couldn’t remember the counts the next time I needed it.

To do 4-7-8 breathing, exhale to empty your lungs. Then breathe in through your nose for four seconds. Hold your breath for seven seconds. Breathe out forcefully through pursed lips (making a whooshing sound) for eight seconds. Repeat the whole thing up to four times

(In all of my previous panic experience, I hadn’t read anything about pursing my lips. Now I’m all in! I’ll try anything at this point.)

If you’re a person who doesn’t need reminders on how to breathe, that’s awesome. You should feel very fortunate. But for those of us who are over here like SERIOUSLY WHY IS THERE AN INVISIBLE MONSTER SITTING ON MY CHEST AND CRUSHING THE LIFE OUT OF ME, I hope these tips help.

Stay safe, friends.


I am no stranger to anxiety + panic attacks, but I have never had such a CONSISTENT obsession about my breathing (and lack thereof) as I've had over the last three days.

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