How Do You Treat Shortness of Breath with Hypnosis?

picture of the words Just Breathe on a beach in the sand with water in the background

Many of us have experienced shortness of breath with vigorous exercise, which improves rapidly with rest.  A sensation of shortness of breath can occur for many other reasons including anxiety, which sometimes can lead to constriction of the airways that creates an additional physical cause of difficulty breathing.  Lung diseases such as asthma or pneumonia and some heart diseases also cause shortness of breath.   

When a patient becomes short of breath this often causes a lot of anxiety because of the associated uncomfortable sensation and sometimes the fear that the patient’s life is at risk.  Thus, it is very common for patients who develop shortness of breath to become anxious, even if anxiety was not the initial cause.  When clinicians only direct their therapy to address physical causes of shortness of breath, patients sometimes do not improve much because their anxiety continues to cause their breathing to feel abnormal. 

Hypnosis for Shortness of Breath 

Fortunately, anxiety-triggered shortness of breath is one of the easiest symptoms to resolve with the aid of hypnosis.  Patients can be taught to calm themselves by imagining a relaxing, safe place and thinking about what they might see, hear, smell, feel, and taste there.  By so imagining, patients are able to change their mind-set from anxious to calm, and thus relieve their uncomfortable feelings related to their breathing. 

It has been demonstrated through magnetic resonance imaging that when patients imagine a particular sense, an activation occurs in the brain center that is responsible for analyzing that sense in in real life. Thus, when patients think of their different senses, they are performing a “whole brain” activity. 

When shortness of breath is the result of a physical illness it can still improve with use of hypnosis because reduction of anxiety can lead to improved tolerance of physical discomfort. 

Identifying the Cause 

The cause of shortness of breath is often obvious such as when exercise, competition, or an underlying lung disease trigger the problem.  However, when shortness of breath is the result of a psychological trigger sometimes the cause is unknown at first.  In such cases it is often helpful to uncover the psychological issue so that it can be addressed. 

Interactions with the subconscious through hypnosis can help identify such psychological issues.  For example, one girl found out that she was short of breath because she did not want to be able to tell her mother about her father’s improper behavior that she had witnessed.  She was worried that disclosing what she had seen would disrupt her parents’ marriage.  A boy’s subconscious told me that he had become short of breath because his father was pressuring him too much regarding his athletic achievements.  The boy did not want to tell his father about his feelings, for fear that his father would become angry with him.  When I counseled both of these children about how to deal better with their family members their shortness of breath resolved. 

Take Home Message 

Shortness of breath usually improves and sometimes resolves with use of hypnosis and counseling. 

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Author
Profile Photo or Ran D. Anbar, MD, FAAP Ran D. Anbar, MD Ran D. Anbar, MD, FAAP, is board certified in both pediatric pulmonology and general pediatrics, offering hypnosis and counseling services at Center Point Medicine in La Jolla, California, and Syracuse, New York. Dr. Anbar is also a fellow and approved consultant of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. Dr. Anbar is a leader in clinical hypnosis, and his 20 years of experience have allowed him to successfully treat over 5,000 children. He also served as a professor of pediatrics and medicine and the director of pediatric pulmonology at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, for 21 years.

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