Healthy adults normally breathe at 12-20 breaths per minute. That is roughly 25,000 times a day.
Almost all of that breathing occurs unconsciously, and you’re only rarely aware that you have yawned or sighed.
But as soon as you start to think about your breathing, it becomes a conscious process.
Try it now. Start to notice how quickly or slowly, and how deeply or superficially you are breathing. This is breathing manually.
This makes you anxious, and your entire breathing process becomes an unpleasant sensation.
So, how can you stop manually breathing?
What Is Manual Breathing?
Manually breathing is breathing consciously. During manual breathing, the person notices the rate, depth, duration, and pattern of their breathing. They may hold their breath, breathe fewer times per minute, or breathe rapidly in close succession.
- Normal breathing is an unconscious, lower-brain-mediated process.
- Manual breathing is a conscious, higher-brain-mediated process.
Among the general population, manual breathing can occur when they have a stressful thought or an unpleasant memory, making them painfully aware of their breathing.
- Manually breathing is frequent in people with anxiety disorder and panic disorder.
- Panic Disorder (PD) patients often enact voluntary breath-holding to trigger a false suffocation alarm.
How To Stop Manually Breathing?
Stress, anxiety, or panic can all cause you to breathe manually.
However, there are breathing techniques to help you normalize your breathing and eliminate anxiety-related manual breathing. These techniques are often used in yoga, meditation, and relaxation exercises.
Here are six breathing techniques to stop manually breathing:
1. Double inhale with long exhale
In this, you take in a long inhale, and at the end of it take in a short rapid extra inhale. Then exhale a long breath.
This method is believed to increase oxygen levels in the body and stimulate the nervous system, helping to reduce stress, increase focus and clarity, and boost physical performance.
It can also help to activate the relaxation response in the body, calming the mind and reducing anxiety.
This manual breathing method has been popularized by Stanford neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman.
He calls it the “physiological sigh” and suggests it is a natural process we often see in babies and pets.
You may practice the double inhale method for a few minutes each day, or as many times as you need it throughout the day to manage stress and improve overall well-being.
2. Controlled Breathing
Controlled breathing is taking control of your breathing.
Controlled breathing is mostly focused deep breathing that stimulates your vagus nerve and calms you down.
It is deciding to take slow, deep breaths, hold them for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly.
This lets you have a sense of control over your breathing and thereby giving you a sense of control over your thoughts and emotions.
Respiration constitutes an accessible, effective, and widely-used interface to change one’s autonomic nervous system activity. In particular, changing one’s breathing toward a slower and deeper breathing pattern is a well-known strategy to acutely increase cardiac vagal control, as reflected by an increase in heart rate variability along with the respiratory rhythm.— D’Agostini & Claes, 2022
You may practice controlled breathing for several minutes at a time to help reduce stress and feel relaxed.
It is also called diaphragmatic breathing.
3. Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing is a yoga technique that involves breathing in through one nostril and out through the other.
It can help relax your body and mind, lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce anxiety, as well as improve respiratory endurance.
Here’s how to practice alternate nostril breathing:
Sit comfortably with an upright torso, close your right nostril with your right thumb, and inhale through the left nostril. Then, close the left nostril and exhale through your right. Repeat for up to 5 minutes, alternating sides.
Alternate nostril breathing can be of two ways, according to ancient Indian Yoga practices:
- Anulom vilom pranayama: Inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other. Then, reversing the nostrils for inhaling and exhaling.
- Nadi shodhana: Like anulom vilom, but in this, you hold your breath for a few seconds before exhaling.
4. Box Breathing
Box breathing is a technique that involves inhaling, holding, and exhaling, each for a count of four.
This technique can improve focus and concentration, especially beneficial for people who work in jobs that need a lot of attention.
Here’s how to do box breathing or square breathing:
- Imagine a square painting on a wall or draw one. Consider each of its four sides representing an equal-duration inhalation, hold, exhalation, and hold.
- Start by inhaling for a count of four as you look at the top border, and hold your breath for four counts as you look at the right border.
- Then inhale for a count of four as you look at the bottom border. Finally, hold for a count of four while watching the left border.
Repeat this cycle for a few minutes, focusing your attention on each border, and letting your worries fade away.
This helps to slow down your breathing and is one of the most practical ways to refresh your mind.
5. Mindful Breathing
Mindful breathing involves paying attention to your breath and focusing on the sensations of air moving in and out of your body.
You can practice this by finding a quiet place to sit and setting a timer for 5 to 10 minutes. Then, close your eyes and focus solely on your breath, counting each inhale and exhale.
If your mind starts to wander, as it will naturally do, gently redirect your focus back to your breath without judging yourself harshly.
Distraction is one of the most effective ways to stop thinking about breathing.
Distracting your mind to enjoyable and focus-intense tasks can nudge your mind to settle down into a soothing, natural breathing rhythm.
Distraction is also one of the most practical ways to stop overthinking.
I often play an online game of chess to distract myself if I am overthinking or manually breathing.
- Do things that bring you instant joy, like dancing to TikTok videos.
- Redirect your focus to activities that require high focus, like jigsaw puzzles
- Challenge your anxiety-provoking thoughts and summon your positive memories.
Types of Manual Breathing
Manual breathing or conscious breathing can be of two types:
1. Stress-induced manual breathing
When we become aware of our breathing because of increased stress in our daily lives, it is stress-induced manual breathing.
It can make you aware that your breath has grown heavy, or you’re breathing too frequently, or holding your breath, or are unable to breathe easily.
Stress in itself is uncomfortable, and manual breathing adds to that discomfort.
2. Intention-induced manual breathing
When we force ourselves to intentionally notice and understand our breathing pattern, it is intention-induced manual breathing.
When you focus on your breathing for too long, it gets uncomfortable. It is because taking and releasing all of our breaths consciously can exhaust us and prevent our higher brain from accomplishing anything else.
When someone purposely holds their breath for a long period, it could be because of their panic disorder.
According to this study, voluntary breath-holding is an unsuitable tool in panic disorder research, since the test is influenced by cognitive and motivational factors.
When we choose to take conscious control of our breathing, we can remove the anxiety and benefit ourselves.
Benefits of Learning To Stop Manual Breathing
Four benefits of training yourself to stop manual breathing:
1. Stress Reduction
Once you learn how to practice manual breathing, it can help you reduce your stress and anxiety by slowing down the breathing rate and easing into a relaxing breathing pattern.
2. Improved Lung Capacity
Manual breathing, by focusing on deep and controlled breathing, can help to increase lung capacity and overall respiratory health.
When you breathe in deep and hold it for some time, it helps your lungs to fully expand.
A fuller lung capacity allows for a more efficient exchange of CO2 and oxygen between the lungs and the blood.
3. Increased Focus and Concentration
Manual breathing can help improve focus and concentration. It occurs as a result of an underlying process of mindfulness that trains your mind to curiously notice your thoughts without judging them.
4. Improved Sleep Quality
Since it slows the breathing rate and helps us relax, manual breathing before going to sleep can help enhance sleep quality and treat insomnia without medications.
What is a normal vs abnormal breathing rate?
Normal breathing rate is an automatic, unconscious process that helps remove the carbon dioxide (CO2) from our lungs at the same rate at which our body produces it.
Abnormal breathing rates can be hyperventilation – when we breathe more than 25 times per minute, releasing more CO2 than necessary, or hypoventilation – when we breathe less than 8 times per minute, retaining more CO2 than we need.
Here are 3 takeaways:
- Our state of mind can influence our breathing, and our breathing can alter our state of mind.
- Take conscious control of your breathing to stop stress-induced manual breathing.
- Sitting up straight is a simple way to improve the quality of your breathing as it allows your lungs to expand more fully, making it easier to make your breathing more effective.
When you train yourself to stop manual breathing, you can overcome anxiety and improve your overall well-being.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher, who writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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