Overthinking about breathing

I was half awake in the middle of the night the other day when I started down a train of thought that I haven’t had in many years. It was of course a big mistake.


Initially I as I sucked air in through my nose, I thought, “Eh.This isn’t right. My nose feels like it’s sucking air in and out but it’s just a passage.”

I then had a moments blind panic about how I actually breathe. I was so asleep I couldn’t remember how the mechanism works. As panic woke me up a bit I remembered something about the diaphragm and other muscles and I calmed down a bit.

I was properly awake now though and as I lay there, I decided to concentrate really hard and see if I could feel my intercostal muscles tensing and relaxing to enable me to breathe. Nope, all I could feel was the air whistling in and out of my nose.

I briefly panicked again.

What if my whole breathing mechanism was broken? What if my nose was the only thing keeping me alive by somehow sucking air in and out? As I tried to focus on where the breathing was happening, it seemed like the only part of me that was vaguely interested was my nose. Oh God, I’m going to die, I thought glumly.

Always one to share such thoughts I asked Claire if she was awake. “Mmmm?” was her emphatic reply. Undaunted, I continued. “You known when you think about breathing, but you can’t actually feel the muscles that are doing it? Weird isn’t it?” I tentatively asked.

Big mistake.

Five minutes later we were both lying there in bed, overthinking our breathing. Was I breathing too shallow now, hang on am I hyperventilating now? How long long should I hold a breath before I release it? Am I feeling light headed from oxygen deprivation or am I just tired?

Breathing is one of those things that you just do and it doesn’t work as well if you consciously think about what you’re doing.