Shortness of breath is frightening and can make you feel anxious or panic. Being breathless is often worse when doing daily tasks, but you can learn simple strategies to regain some control over your breathing. For more detailed information on breathing techniques, speak to a physiotherapist. The following are basic breathing exercises and positions:
Relaxed slow deep breathing
This can be useful before and during an activity that makes you breathless:
- Breathe in gently through your nose then breathe out through your nose (or through your mouth if unable to breathe through your nose)
- Try to let go of any tension in your body as you breathe out (closing your eyes might help you focus on your breathing)
- Gradually try to make the breaths slower.
This can be used at any time to help control your breathing:
- Breathe in gently through your nose
- Purse your lips as though you are about to blow out a candle or whistle
- Blow out with your lips in this pursed position – imagine blowing out a candle as you breathe out.
You can use this whilst doing a task that makes you breathless:
- Breathe in BEFORE you make the effort e.g. standing/ lifting
- Breathe out WHILE you make the effort e.g. while standing up.
Positions to help with shortness of breath
- Sit leaning forwards with your elbows resting on your knees or on a table.
- Stand with your back against a wall, with your feet slightly apart and about a foot away from the wall.
- Stand leaning forward resting your elbows on a firm surface e.g. sturdy chair, countertop or windowsill.
Other general wellbeing strategies that might help
Regular gentle exercise: improving your fitness will aid activity tolerance and energy in the long term. Exercise will also reduce stress levels, aid anxiety and boost your mood. Consider yoga, tai-chi or pilates. Please refer to the section 'Developing Exercise Tolerance'. If you have any concerns about starting to exercise or your symptoms worsen, you should speak to your doctor.
Diet, smoking and alcohol: try to reduce smoking & alcohol consumption and eat a well-balanced diet.
Relaxation techniques: set aside a specific time for relaxation each day. There are many online resources with guided relaxation techniques and exercises (see below). Music and pets can also help!
Mindfulness: try to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life, as this has been shown to benefit mental and physical resilience and helps with anxiety. Again, look for resources on the internet and there are also some good apps that you can download for free.