Overbreathing Plays Havoc With Anxiety Levels And Other Problems

We have seen from other posts that I have published on this site that those affected by significant childhood trauma are at increased risk of developing anxiety disorders as adults which frequently involve hypervigilance and hyperventilation (being stuck in ‘fight/flight’ mode. In this post, I want to focus on hyperventilation and the myriad unpleasant symptoms and conditions that it can create and aggravate. Hyperventilation, hyperventilation syndrome, or, more simply, over-breathing has been described by but, according to LC Lum (In his paper: Hyperventilation: the tip of the iceberg‘), is not a disease per se but a ‘habit’ and one that can definitely break often to enormous benefit to the patient who had no idea that so many of his/her physical and psychological problems were linked to it (and, in many cases, physicians miss this link too meaning the poor patient sees one doctor after another, accumulates a thick medical file, but the root of his/her difficulties are never identified. Whilst hyperventilation is ‘kick started’ by trauma, it soon feeds off itself and forms a vicious circle, taking on a life of its own, potentially, without effective intervention, persisting for years.

As I have said, hyperventilation is associated with myriad unpleasant conditions including, but not limited to, the following:

  • fatigue, dizziness, foggy brain, disturbed sleep, erratic heartbeat, upset stomach, nausea, chest pains, poor confidence, feeling anxious, tense, agitated, restless and uptight, clammy hands, pins and needles, sore joints, aching muscles, a feeling of being deprived of oxygen, discomfort when breathing, hypervigilance, irritability.

Once poor breathing habits become deeply entrenched and we are perpetually breathing out too much carbon dioxide the body adjusts itself (including alterations in various receptors) so that our dysfunctional breathing pattern becomes habitual.

Because breathing is inextricably connected to every other body system (they all require the right amount of oxygen, after all) it has numerous knock-on effects (rather like a row of dominoes being knocked down, the first domino being the ‘dysfunctional breathing technique domino’) that produce other problems.


Seyal and Gage (1989) found that hyperventilation increases excitability in the cutaneous and motor axons. Also, according to Sparing et. (2017), the visual cortex also becomes more excitable. Furthermore, the researchers suggest hyperventilation slows EEG.

Neuronal hyperexcitability in the brain leads to neurons becoming, as the name suggests, excitable and to firing both more frequently and more randomly.

The nerves through which we experience pain also become more energetic and sensitive which increases our subjective experience of pain.

It is necessary to soothe the brain’s fear-circuitry and we can do this in such a way as we learn to breathe correctly and in a way that reduces our CO2 levels

SEE ALSO Is your anxiety caused by hyperventilation: a look at the science



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