How do dysfunctional breathing habits affect our health?

Dysfunctional breathing refers to chronic incorrect breathing patterns. These may originate from physiological problems or may be due to learned behaviours. Many factors such as asthma, anxiety, fibromyalgia, excessive exercise, chronic nasal congestion, or sleep apnoea can cause dysfunctional breathing. Circumstances that increase stress, such as public speaking, busy work pace, or fear of failure can also trigger dysfunctional breathing habits.

People who habitually breathe incorrectly may show some common symptoms such as a feeling of breathlessness or insufficient breathing, trying to breathe deeply by frequently sighing or yawning, coughing frequently, headaches, chronic fatigue, dizziness, sensations of tingling or numbness and mood swings.

Dysfunctional breathing habits can present in many different forms such as shallow and inadequate breathing, hyperventilation or excessive breathing, overuse of the diaphragm or frequent breath holds. Throughout the day, we may all take shallow or deep breaths, breathe through the mouth, or hold our breath every now and then. However, breathing incorrectly most of the day indicates a chronic breathing problem.

For instance, shallow and insufficient breathing disrupts the oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange, increases the heart rate and blood pressure. This type of breathing activates the sympathetic nervous system, keeping you in a state of "fight or flight", constantly creating intense stress.

Hyperventilation is another dysfunctional breathing pattern. During hyperventilation, reduced level of carbon dioxide causes constriction in vessels, especially decreasing the amount of blood reaching the brain. This may trigger conditions such as panic attack and anxiety in the long term.

Dysfunctional breathing habits can lead to reduced physical capacity and endurance, weakened immune system, malfunction of many systems in the body, disrupted blood pH level, chronic pain, fatigue, sleep, memory, and concentration problems as well as many psychologic conditions.

Regular breathwork practice may help overcome many dysfunctional breathing habits. In serious cases, getting a breath analysis and working with an experienced breath specialist is imperative.