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Although breathlessness can be a difficult symptom to live with, there are things you can do to prevent or reduce its impact on your life. Breathing techniques, relaxation and coping strategies may all help to reduce the distress of breathlessness and make your breathing easier.
When you feel breathless, it can help to get in a comfortable position that allows your shoulders and upper chest to relax and lets your diaphragm and tummy expand. This could be:
Once you’re in a comfortable position, try breathing in through your nose and out gently through your mouth. Some people find it helpful to breathe out through pursed lips – as if blowing out a candle.
Focus on your breathing and count your breath in for three counts and out for four. If you find breathing in through your nose difficult, you can breathe through your mouth instead.
Breathlessness can cause you to breathe with the upper chest and shoulder muscles in a fast and shallow way. This can use up a lot of energy and tire you out.
An important part of managing breathlessness is learning a technique called controlled breathing, which uses your diaphragm and lower chest muscles. Controlled breathing can help you to relax and breathe more gently and effectively using lower chest breathing.
Practise these exercises when you’re not feeling too short of breath. You’ll then become familiar with them and can use them when you’re more breathless.
It may help to sit sideways to a mirror so you can see that your lower chest is moving.
When you breathe out, feel your shoulders and upper chest relax. As you breathe in gently, keep your shoulders relaxed. If this is hard to do, ask someone to press down gently on your shoulders to help relieve some of the tension.
Breathe in slowly and out gently, feeling your upper chest muscles relax more and more with each breath out.
It can take a bit of time to get used to these exercises. Try not to force the exercises or expect instant results. Aim for a gradual change from breathlessness to controlled breathing.
Content last reviewed: 1 January 2011
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
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