Q Like most 30-something working mums, I’m often anxious. I don’t sleep well, can’t always concentrate and yawn a lot. My GP just says I’m tired but is there something else wrong?
A As well as the demands on your time, a significant factor in your anxiety and tiredness may be over-breathing, or chronic hyperventilation syndrome (CHVS). Although your symptoms seem unrelated, they are typical of CHVS. Sufferers also report feeling bloated, experiencing dizziness and nightmares.
Respiratory physiotherapist Dinah Bradley says ‘this breathing disorder may affect as many as one in ten people. But although it’s implicated in a wide range of health problems, CHVS remains widely undiagnosed’. Respiratory expert Dr Mike Thomas of Aberdeen University says ‘the biggest problem is a lack of reliable information’, and recommends Bradley’s book Hyperventilation Syndrome (Kyle Books, £6.99).
In over-breathing, more air moves through the lungs than your body can deal with. So while you have plenty of oxygen, you flush out too much carbon dioxide (CO2). This upsets your body chemistry, causing physical and psychological symptoms including anxiety and disrupted sleep patterns. CO2 deficit also reduces blood flow to the brain – thus the loss of focus.
You can self-check. Count how many times you breathe in and out per minute, also how you breathe. If you take more than 15 breaths a minute, and/or breathe into your upper chest rather than your belly, and also tend to inhale through your mouth (rather than your nose) for long periods, you’re ‘a sitting duck for CHVS,’ says Bradley.
Upper chest breathing uses much more energy (10-30 per cent) than belly breathing (2-4 per cent). Try taking six nose breaths in and out and then the same mouth breathing. Put one hand on your upper chest, one on your stomach, and feel the difference. ‘Breathing through your mouth initiates upper chest movement, while nose breathing helps relaxed abdominal breathing.’
So becoming a nose breather is top priority. Also the nose is our air conditioner, filtering environmental ‘nasties’.
Be patient. It takes time to restore normal nose/abdominal breathing, so practice consciously. Dinah Bradley’s book gives detailed information. Hands-on help is available via physiohypervent.org/, a UK network of specialist CHVS physiotherapists.
Ask your GP to check your iron levels for anaemia. If you don’t have enough red blood cells, you have to breathe harder to circulate oxygen. That can trigger CHVS, fatigue, and achy neck and shoulder muscles. But correcting iron levels may not correct disordered breathing so retraining is still vital.
Rest, Relax – And Restore
A natural SilkSkin pillowcase is the softest sweetest surface to slumber on, plus it helps protect your skin and hair from drying out. A SilkSkin eye mask filled with organic lavender, fights insomnia, stress and worry lines. One tester says: ‘they’re so luxurious and really do promote “beauty sleep”. I can’t think of any woman who wouldn’t love them.’ SilkSkin Pillowcase, £36, Luxury Eye Mask, £30, both from Victoria Health.
Walkies Back to Happiness
Walking a four-legged friend for half an hour or more daily could be your ticket to a healthier, happier and longer life, according to Heart Research UK. And if you can’t have your own dog, you could offer to walk a neighbour’s or help at a shelter for abandoned or mistreated dogs. The Dogs Trust organises fundraising ‘WaggyWalks’ (waggywalks.org.uk).
Less Waste, More Taste
Many of us assume that foods past their ‘sell-by’ date must be unsafe. In fact, virtually all of it is perfectly good but the implication it’s ‘off’ has contributed significantly to the five million tons of edible produce (worth £12 billion), which is binned every year. Much of that goes to landfill, which is expensive and eventually forms the powerful climate change gas methane. But from September 15th this year, sell-by dates are being phased out. Most foods (eg tinned and dry goods, jams, pickles and snacks) will carry a ‘best before’ date, when they’ll no longer be at their best but are still safe to eat. ‘Use by’ labels will only go on food that’s unsafe after a certain date, eg soft cheese, meat, fish, eggs and ready meals.
London Mayor Boris Johnson is throwing his weight behind a new campaign to cut food waste, which launches this Thursday 18th November in Trafalgar Square. ‘Feeding the 5000’ will serve hot lunches made from fresh but cosmetically imperfect food that would otherwise have gone to waste. For information, visit feeding5k.org.