Can't Breathe! I think I know why. I need your help!!

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Lauren Rose

My breath is escaping me once again and I am having to conscious work on not panicking. I am in a significant PTSD storm and it is such a struggle to keep my emotional head above the very tumultuous emotional waters. It is even more challenging because every time I force myself to relax when I get too amped up, I lose my breath and am left gasping until I can turn my attention away and let my body mechanically find its rhythm. It has been a constant battle every since I broke with PTSD 13 years ago. And now that everything is activated, it is exhausting giving myself the constant pep talk to keep going when all I want to do is lay down and die. Sounds peaceful.

For the past 12 years I have been asking everyone I know - lay peeps and professionals alike - why I lose my breath every single time I put attention to it. No one has an answer. And everyone always seemed so surpised and it made me feel defective... less than. I got to the point where I simply didn't pay any attention to my breath - problem solved. Not really because I had to keep a vigilance to NOT pay attention to it so I was still a prisoner of my own mind ... just in a different way.

When I got sucked into this present storm I lost my breath even unconsciously. I feel like I have been running a marathon at full speed and can't seem to get a good breath. Or the air doesn't have any substance to it. I can breathe in down to the bottom of my lungs, but there is no satisfaction. I am constantly gasping for air, taking that "catch up breath" because I am shallow breathing.

But it is familiar. So I am not panicking ... sort of. It is like a low grade panic actually, not quite strong enough to medicate but strong enough to require constant observation. Did I mention exhausting?

My method of maintaining my stability until this storm passes is to seek out new coping mechanisms. I made a new friend who also suffers from my style of PTSD and it has been life giving talking with him in the flesh. I haven't found anyone who understands what I am going through in a number of years. Thank you my Universe. What a gift. He put me in touch with a friend of his who profoundly helped him with grounding.

I spoke with her on the phone yesterday. She took me through a grounding exercise that has great potential to be helpful. It was a typical “sit and let your feet grow roots down to the middle of the earth and let the earth energy flow up through you out your crown and down your body back to the earth” but spoken in a way that I could really latch on to and relate. It was amazing. After the 15 minute exercise, I began asking her some questions.

Is it normal to have waves crash through you? One wave where my tears were literally flowing down my face soaking my chest? And the next wave I was literally vibrating with rage energy and had to will myself to sit and continue the exercise? Or another wave where I was swallowing so hard because the bile wanted to eject from my body onto my carpet?

Oh she said. No. She told me if it got that intense that I should stop and pull back. I explored that with her and came to my conclusion that as always, I needed to push myself to uncomfortable and stop before breaking … to desensitize and to build my stamina being with me.

As I was explaining to her why I have such a hard time trusting myself, I began to understand perhaps why I lose my breath so badly so often.

Going to get personal… in a general way.

When I was small ages 5-8 some of the adults in my parents life used to come into my room and … well you can imagine. I used to hold my breath every time I heard a noise outside. And when I was 27 and assaulted by 2 men, I had run from them and leapt into the bushes and went “dead” and held my breath but they caught me. And and and…. so many times I have held my breath. And this is in the waking world. In my terror dreams… same.

I think what is happening is that when I focus on my breath, my highly tuned survival instinct sees this behaviour and immediately thinks I am in mortal danger. My fight/flight/freeze instinct is tripped and my reasoning mind is disconnected and my survival self is in charge. It knows that in order for me to have even the smallest chance to escape life threatening disaster, I need to be silent. My breath needs to be barely there. I need to be still.

This makes so much sense to me. But … I have such a hard time trusting myself especially when I am in a PTSD storm, I have doubts. But I trust you. What do you think? Does this make sense to you?

If it is sound then I have a visible mark to hit - FINALLY! I can sit with a grounding rock in my hands and do a focused meditation that “I Am Safe” and change the terms of engagement I currently have with focusing on my breath.

I really hope you will comment because I desperately need your thoughts. If this is full of shit .. I need to know that so I can keep seeking an answer.

Forever grateful… me.


If you’re panting/hyperventilating, it f*cks with the Co2 balance, removing your “need” to breath (and therefore the satisfaction/relief gained in taking a full breath). It’s an old swimmer’s trick. Albeit a very dangerous one.

Anxiety & Adrenaline also causes shallow breathing, and the same effect occurs. It hyperoxygenates your blood (preparing to feed your large muscle groups, as it pulls your blood to your core), & f*cks with the Co2 balance telling you when to breathe/allowing you to stay conscious despite sudden oxygen deprivation (being strangled, risk of downing, risk of making noise, etc.)

Combine the natural physiological response with the trigger? Yes. It makes sense that you’re essentially caught in a loop of anxiety triggers shallow breathing triggers flashbacks triggers anxiety triggers shallow breathing triggers anxiety, ad naseam.

My suggestion is that if you’re goin to work on breath control?

...And since you have so many triggers and so much anxiety around breath control, that it’s probably at the tip top of your list of things to work on...

That you do it via activity that gives you a reason to be minding your breathing that doesn’t kick off the breathless anxiety loop. Like singing, swimming, playing a wind instrument. Something where minding your breathing is a byproduct, rather than the sole focus. Let you work on getting comfortable adjusting how you breath when... before attempting to mind how you’re breathing all on its own.

Lauren Rose

Thank you @Friday. Are you suggesting that I take on an activity like singing or perhaps chanting.. yes. Let's go with chanting. So if I were to do a chanting session and focus on my breath while chanting as a way of desensitizing and letting my warrior know that I am safe ... that eventually I would be able to check in on my breath and not go into survival mode? Cause that would be amazing.

And it would probably be helpful to mention that I was in a cult for 4 years and severely brainwashed when I was in my mid teens... and that I repressed an assault when I was 27 and when it surfaced at 43 I lost trust with myself. Yeah. So a bit of a double whammy telling myself I am safe which is why having "your" words as an ally is huge. Make sense?


Well, cults have enough of issues on their own & if there was no stalking involved since then, you are not being taken against your will back to them, there were no other issues than just the cult, you do not have family members like children still in etc.... Yeah it is pretty safe to assume you *are* safe.

Ditto with attacks that are long gone, were a single attack, & you had a time of several decades you were safe enough you did not even have to think about it.

Lauren Rose

Yes!! I agree wholeheartedly which is what makes this all so insanely frustrating! My reasoning mind KNOW I am safe .. but when that warrior gets tripped - my body goes into survival against my will and without my permission. Grrrr..... The only thing I am not "safe" from is whatever else I have buried. But I know there is nothing I can do about that so I don't fixate at all - and honestly? No matter what life throws at me I am in a great position to handle it. I have strategies, mechanisms and peeps to lean on. I just need to change the relationship I have with my breath...


Sounds focusing on it is making it soo infinitely worse, just because anxiety.

So, when do you not think of your breathing & not notice it at all?

Since you do not need to change it, your breathing will take care of itself just enough, if there is no other condition (asthma, allergies, the like) that would require you to monitor it.

Lauren Rose

Yes. When I deliberately don't (that sounds funny) focus on my breathing I am still shallow breathing and have to take a recoup breath every 5-8 breaths ... but I am not panicky. I know the obvious solution is to ... don't pay attention though LOL but I am hoping to heal the situation so I can hopefully have it not be my normal. When I am not activated, the same thing happens when I focus in. It has made meditating challenging. And sleeping. I still have to go to sleep with something playing in the background - usually a pixar movie with the monitor turned off.


I still have to go to sleep with something playing in the background
Having stuff like this that works? Is awesome.

I’m a strong second to @Friday ’s suggestion to do relaxation or grounding activities that don’t focus directly on your breath, but controlled breathing is an inevitable side product.

Re the chanting: if you’re considering chanting or yoga, have a word to the instructor/facilitator beforehand, and ask them to avoid/minimise references to breathing. Yoga instructor’s will often balk at that, but if it’s a small class and you explain that it makes you panic, they’ll often work with you.

I have a trigger around relaxation exercises, and have messed my way through by learning that I just need to be assertive about it. Explaining to facilitators and instructor’s “I have ptsd and this specific thing triggers me...”, my experience is that you don’t get asked for the why’s and wherefores about how the trigger comes to be related to your trauma, and they’re oftentimes extremely obliging to do what they can to adapt their session to try and make it work for you.

And of course, if it’s not working? You just walk out:)


I have huge breathing issues that are primarily anxiety-related. Singing *really* helps me, as does busying myself with things that I can become absorbed in. Of course, once I realize I'm breathing easier, I can't anymore.

I've also found some of the breathing apps to be very helpful when I need to minimize the discomfort quickly - like at work or family gatherings.

Warrior Chicken

I haven’t been able to read through everyone’s posts but wanted to say yes...what you explain makes sense to me and I’m with you. I also have trouble with breathing but just push through all that and don’t take value from it. I’m trying to learn better tactics.
I had to stop breathing to avoid detection and was stopped from breathing by another on a separate occasion.

I understand, I’m sorry. But I get it.

Shit. I regret writing that.

Lauren Rose

Thank you so much for commenting. I don’t feel so alone with this now. And I am comforted and can go back to doing what I do without so much concern that the breathing needs to be fixed. I will accept it as a disability for now and work around it and slowly chip away at desensitizing. The yoga and meditation I do at home mostly because its less intimidating if I need to just stop. I am considering going to a sacred space to practice a form of meditation as a way of connecting to the larger world, I am looking at some options. I am so grateful that today I am not mindlessly running around frenetically trying to fix everything. I have some balance today and am taking a healthy portion of each area. That’s growth. And I can actually track it back to this site 8 years ago where I learned how big PTSD is and how extensive the healing is. Taught me to learn to be patient. Diligent in my healing efforts but patient for the results. Today even though this suffocating pain is barely tolerable, I can see the evidence of patient diligence at work in my non-panic. Hope that makes sense. ??
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