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Breathing in and out of a paper bag
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Question

Very occasionally, I suffer anxiety attacks.

My doctor suggested that when I do suffer such an attack, it could help to breathe in and out of a paper bag for, say, five minutes.

I'd like to know what the principle behind this is? Does it matter what size bag?

Would it lower my general anxiety levels if I simply routinely did this exercise every day, even if I weren't having an attack?

Answer

David writes:

Let's take your queries one by one:

  • When people get anxiety attacks they 'over-breathe'. This lowers the level of carbon dioxide in the blood and that makes them feel worse! Breathing into a paper bag for half a dozen or so breaths, builds up the carbon dioxide in your body again, so you should immediately start feeling better.

  • The size of the bag doesn't matter - but unless you use a decent-sized one, you won't be able to breathe very much air into it. I suggest at least six inches by four.

  • I've never heard of anyone doing this exercise every day, but it's worth a try. Many therapists would suggest structured breathing exercises (combined with relaxation) every day.

Ask your doctor about this.

Christine adds:

Can I just suggest that in addition to David's advice you think more long-term about your stress levels?

Have a look at the articles on stress on this site:

They should help you to manage your anxiety and stress more effectively.

Yours sincerely

David Delvin, GP and Christine Webber, psychotherapist


Last updated 01.08.2007

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