Relearning to Breathe with anxiety

Breathe.

In. Fill up my belly like a balloon — two, three, four.

Hold

Out. Pull my belly button to my spine — two, three, four, five.

Hold.

Repeat.

Breathing. We are born with the ability to do it. In fact, it is one of those automatic functions of the body. It is one of the most basic and simple things we can do and it comes easily to everyone, right?

Wrong.

Breathing is one of the things those of us with anxiety disorders often get “wrong.”
I’ve forgotten how to breathe, again. I’ve spent the past 15 months training myself to breathe normally using Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Patiently learning to slow my breath to a calm and rhythmic pace, not hyperventilating, unconsciously holding my breathe, then gulping in deep gasps of air when the inherent need to survive overcomes my anxious brain and fights for oxygen.

I’d gotten pretty good at breathing, or so I thought. But recently, I’ve started to find the same anxious and maladaptive breath holding and hyperventilation creeping back in. Why exactly, I am not 100 percent sure, but the effects are making themselves apparent with daily panic attacks and dizzy spells. I am stressed out, my anxiety disorder is taking back control.

Maybe it’s the pressure I’m placing on myself to achieve wellness. I’ve been receiving treatment for mental health issues for a little more than a year and sometimes I think I should be “cured” by now and I question why I’m still struggling more often than I’d like. Possibly it is that I’m attempting to socialize more instead of isolating myself like I have for the past year — after all, being able to integrate into society again is an integral part of health.

I’m finding my nightmares are bad again. They have been now for several weeks and I feel haunted by them during the day. I’m not depressed by them, but I am frightened and left with a sense of impending doom. I feel overwhelmed and out of control. I need to stop watching and reading the news — the horrific headlines and threats of an all out war only feed my fears.

No matter what the reason or reasons though, the fact remains I’m falling down the rabbit hole and it scares me a lot. I am terrified of my anxiety attacks. I’m living in fear of them again and the way they can totally obliterate my sense of peace. The frantic speed of my heart, the spinning of my racing thoughts, the cloying nausea and sense of claustrophobia as I feel the walls are pressing in on me, is all too much to handle at times. I’ve started cutting again. Pulling the silver, cold blade across my inner arm, or more recent and mostly where I do it now, above my shorts tan line. Releasing the tension, stress, the pressure. Punishing myself, inflicting pain on myself, because I can’t just control myself.

I remind myself recovery is not linear and there will be ups and downs. I’m reinforcing the knowledge I learned before on how to breathe and remind myself I can do it again now. I must refocus on the basics for now. I can gain control over my anxiety, but I have to work hard to do so. Letting go of the things that are making me anxious and taunting me is going to be difficult, but there is no other option.

I repeat to myself again and again, “recovery is not linear, recovery is not linear, you are not a failure!”

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2 thoughts on “Relearning to Breathe with anxiety

  1. Thank you for sharing this! It’s so true – recovery is not linear. Those of us living with any sort of mental health diagnosis tend to be WAY too hard on ourselves. I was in the hospital a while back and one of the group therapists there kept saying “recovery is a process, not an event.” That really helped me wrap my head around the length of the journey before me. Honestly, I’ll likely be “recovering” to some extent for the rest of my life. Thanks again for this post! I really appreciated it and the way in which you presented it! I had never thought of it as “learning to breathe” again! Your perspective is wonderfully written. As for the anxiety cropping back up and growing, I’m very sorry that you’re dealing with that. Truly. All I can say is please try not to be too hard on yourself. Anxiety is a beast because you start feeling anxious and then you start feeling anxious about the fact that you’re anxious – like you said, you start dreading the panic attack. That dread can actually bring on a panic attack. Such a freaking catch 22. I hope that you’re able to get through this period without too much pain and suffering. Take care of yourself. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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