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Sensorimotor Breathing Obsession..need help/advice

Hello to everyone, I am new here although I have been reading these boards for the past few months now. I joined so that I could post a question for which I desperately need some feedback on. I could really use some advice regarding the best way to treat a sensorimotor obsession with breathing. It is impacting my life at this point.
It started about a month ago while doing a breathing awareness exercise as part of a mindfulness meditation program (which I was doing to help reduce anxiety). The idea was to focus on your breathing without letting your mind wander (which was supposed to be difficult). Well it was until I thought to myself "what if I can't stop being aware of my breathing". From that point on I got stuck with what I discovered through online research is called a sensorimotor obsession with breathing. Before this instance I did not know that I had OCD.

There doesn't seem to be much information about this specific OCD condition. I have read the Dr. Steve Seay and Dr. David Keuler articles on this issue which focus on ERP as the treatment method. I have also purchased a book called Overcoming Obsessive Thoughts by Dr's. Purdon and Clark (focusing on Pure-O OCD specifically). I am currently reading the OCD Workbook and hope it might help me. I also read about and ordered Dr. Jeffery Schwartz's book Brain Lock and understand the 4-step method he teaches.

I have just started seeing a psychologist who believes I should apply ERP therapy with the use of written and recorded exposure based on my worst fears about this breathing obsession. I guess something like recording "I will never stop thinking about my breathing" or "from now on I will always have to consciously control my breathing" and then listening to this on a loop for like an hour everyday until I get sick of it and become habituated to these thoughts without having any anxiety response. This is the Exposure component I assume but I don't understand what the Response Prevention part should be. Is the coping strategy a mental one that tells me to avoid thinking about the breathing obsession and I have to prevent myself from doing this?

The thing is that sometimes I am able to get over this breathing obsession completely and can go on without thinking about it for days (this is especially the case when I get distracted). I realize there is nothing to be anxious about and that I have always breathed normally without any issues all of my life. There is no difference between me before this issue and me right now aside from my thought process. I thought I had this licked...

I went from being aware of my breathing throughout the day to only being aware at night when going to sleep (sleep became a trigger) to being over it and just recently BACK AGAIN to being distracted both day and night (after having thought I was over this). I don't understand how my mind is doing this to me even after I have been able to decouple the anxiety from my breathing awareness successfully in the recent past to the point where I thought I was perfectly fine!

Is anyone out there dealing with this breathing obsession currently with a professional? I feel like there is not a lot of research on this specific problem and that most treatment methods focus more on traditional OCD symptoms which feature obsessions and compulsions. Agian I don't really even understand what the compulsion part of this breathing obsession is although I assume it must be something mental.

The therapist I went to before my current psychologist said that OCD requires medication to handle and that I should definitely get evaluated by a psychiatrist. This particular therapist admitted to have been suffering from OCD and was on meds which made all the difference. Although this was a bias towards medications/ssri's given their experience which my current psychologist calls transference (applying your situation to someone else).

Now I am beginning to wonder if an SSRI would be the solution to getting rid of this breathing obsession once and for all (in conjunction with CBT). Has anyone here who deals with this breathing awareness (or any other sensorimotor obsession) had any noticeable results with medications? Any advice at this point would be greatly appreciated (I am sorry for the length of this post).
16 Responses
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1699033 tn?1514113133
COMMUNITY LEADER
Hi there.  Sorry for the delay...there was a glitch with the website and it wouldn't let me sign on.  In any event, I don't have this particular obsession but I do have to say that while I was reading what you wrote, I was aware of my breathing.  I think that there is an element of transference in that we can find new things to obsess over just by reading or listening to someone else's story.  

In any event.  I think that at some point you will get over this.  You will become "immune" to it per se and move on.  OCD is a killer when our minds are idle which is why you may be okay during the day when you are distracted but when you have time on your hands, you mind goes to this type of thinking.  

I think it is great that you have taken charge and are using multiple methods to help you through this.  The books are great in that they explain why we do what we do.  The therapist is good because they can help you with CBT (ERP) so that you can get past this.  Now everybody 's OCD is different and it could be that stress in your life has kind of brought this out and sometimes when you have one irrational thoughts or obsession, when you get it "fixed" you develop another which is why CBT is so important.  

As for medication, I take medication as well.  I have also thought of becoming a counselor for OCD people just because I understand it.  I use both medication and CBT to combat my OCD because sometimes I do have breakthrough panic and the CBT takes care of that.  What I find is that we cannot give into the OCD.  We can't avoid.  Obviously you are going to breathe because it is a reflex.  Not something that is under our control.  OCD people try to control everything.  So you need to get it into your mind that this is not something you control, something you can never control unless you hold your breath and then of course, you body will take over once again.  

I am a big believer in self-coaching which is basically talking to yourself in your head.  So when you notice the breathing you can say "NOT UNDER MY CONTROL, MOVE ON, ENOUGH" and then distract yourself.  If you let it go and continue to give into the impulse to monitor it, it will stay around.  Stop it right when it starts.  

I lived med free for a number of years but I was not OCD free.  Medication is a personal choice.  But I will tell you that I plan to never go off my medication again.  I have been there done that and ended up back on it.  Stress is a killer for me and sometimes I need to up the medication to get through a particular stressor but I do get through it.  I know that I will always get better but that it will take a bit of time.  That for me is key....the knowing that I can overcome this because I have done it before.  

Take care and let us know how your progress is going.  
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Avatar universal
Thank you for this thoughtful reply. I really appreciate you taking the time to provide such detailed and insightful feedback! You really should become an OCD counselor because only the people who have suffered from this thing really know all of its subtle intricacies.

I completely agree with your advice and I have been applying it over the past few days. I believe it is starting to work as my anxiety level has gradually come down and I am starting to handle this problem better even when without distractions.

The thing you mentioned about OCD and needing to control things was an eye opener for me. I guess I never realized how much of a component of my personality this tendency is. Only until recently when this breathing problem began and I realized it was an OCD condition have I begun to understand myself better.

What you said about knowing that you will overcome the situation because you have before is definitely key when it comes to perspective and confidence. Once I have been able to overcome this OCD symptom that knowledge in and of itself will make it less anxiety provoking if it flares up again in the future. Once I know that I can d this I will feel much better.

Finally regarding medications, I know there is always a cost/benefit analysis that has to be done. Basically the side effects versus the improvements you experience. I have heard many people say the ssri's make them feel numb (like a zombie). I know that it's probably different for each individual user but it seems like some complaints are more universal than others. Do you have this issue at all? I also heard that weight gain, sexual dysfunction, and insomnia/anxiety are common side effect due to the much higher doses required for OCD. If I may as, what are your experiences with these potential side effects?

Also did you have to try a number of different ssri's for months at a time before finding the right one that worked best for you? I heard you have to give each one at least 3 months before you know if it's working for you.

All the best!

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Avatar universal
I forgot to ask one other thing about the medication. Do you feel it helps with intrusive thoughts at all? Are they reduced somewhat or is it more the anxiety that the medication reduces which in turn may reduce the impact of the intrusive thought?
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1699033 tn?1514113133
COMMUNITY LEADER
I have been on a couple of SSRIs.  I took Prozac and that was a very long time ago.  I actually had to take it when I was pregnant.  It worked well for me.  After my two kids were born I stayed on it and I believe the most notable side effect was weight gain.  I went off of that for a number of years and then from stress I started to wake up at night in a panic so I went to the doctor (regular gp because I knew what was wrong) and I tried Lexapro and celexa.  I didn't like either one of them.  My sex drive was non existent.  So we tried a SNRI called Wellbutrin.  It has the least sexual side effects.  In fact I find no sexual side effects on Wellbutrin.  I have gained a little weight but I'm also not eating right or exercising so it could entirely just be my own poor choices causing the weight gain.  

The anxiety...yes...sometimes they do heighten anxiety when you start taking it.  I got very very jittery and I wanted so badly to stop taking it but everybody on the Anxiety forum (at the time there was no OCD forum) said to give it at least 4 weeks and I would feel better.  And damn if they were not right.  At about 4 weeks it was like a like bulb went on and the jitteryness was gone and I was feeling good.  

I'm not sure how the medication really works other than it allows more neurotransmitters to be available in your brain for cells to function properly.  I can't say that I don't still think irrational things but I am able to say "whatever" and let them go.  I attribute the medication to the being able to let things go.  I mean "normal" people I'm sure think irrational things as well but they can let it go so I believe the medication makes us more "normal."

I can't say anything about sleep because insomnia has always been a problem for me.  So I take 1 mg of klonopin each night to sleep and that works well for me.  

Let me know if I can answer any more questions for you.  
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Avatar universal
Thanks you for the detailed reply. I'm still debating if I can do this without meds or not. I think I feel a bit better but the idea of having this OCD "problem" is still in the back of my mind which gives me a feeling of vulnerability and potentially some instability. I kind of feel like I have to tip toe around or like a ticking time bomb that may explode at any minute even though technically I am doing better with this thing daily. Part of me worries that the more energy I focus on dealing with this issue the more attention and therefore power I give the OCD as something significant in my life which makes it harder to escape its grasp.

Interesting that Wellbutrin works for you. I didn't know it was used for OCD as I only heard about it being used for depression. The ones I keep hearing about specifically for OCD treatment are Luvox, Zoloft, and Prozac. Also an older tricyclic called Anafranil (which I hear has even stronger side effects but is specifically used to tread OCD).

How did you handle those 4 weeks of increased anxiety? That sounds awefull! Did you have to take a benzo to make it through that period until the ssri started working?

I like the fact that the ssri allows you to just put aside the intrusive thoughts as nothing to worry about. This is what I was hoping the effect might be. Just not sure if I can focus on CBT therapy first without any meds. I'm thinking maybe I should give it 2 months with therapy to see how it goes and then if there are no changes add meds to the program. Maybe I'm just making too big a deal about the meds and I should just try them right now?
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1699033 tn?1514113133
COMMUNITY LEADER
It really depends on how debilitated you are.  I think everybody should learn CBT first and then go from there but if you are in what I call "crisis" mode then I think medication is indicated along with CBT.  It doesn't sound like you are in crisis mode.  When I say crisis think of yourself as a spinning top going from one thing to the next in your mind with no relief in sight.  What if this, what if that, etc.  It doesn't sound like this is you right now.  So I think doing therapy for a few months to see how you do and then medication if necessary is the way to go.  CBT will always be useful.  Even on meds I use CBT to stop panic attacks that I sometimes have in the car.  

To get through those first four weeks I did have to take klonopin as needed.  I tried very hard not to take it though because I had to work and it makes you drowsy.  I would take a quarter of a mg and see how I did.  Then the other quarter if I needed it.  On the weekends I kept myself busy.  I chopped down a whole bunch of bamboo on the weekends around my yard to keep myself occupied.  Manual labor felt really good.  The jitteryness subsided as the day went on and in the evenings I felt good.  I was also very thirsty and had to carry water with me everywhere for those first few weeks.  

As for the Wellbutrin, yes I was surprised it worked as well but it does for me so I got the best of both worlds with it.  I did start with 150 mg but when I had a major stressor or what I thought was major (septic system failure and replacement)  I lost it (crisis mode) and had to up to 300 mg.  So that 150 to 300 dosage increase I had jitteryness.  When I started with 150 mg I didn't have any side effects.  
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Avatar universal
Thank you again for this info!

May I ask if you have suffered from Pure-O OCD?
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1699033 tn?1514113133
COMMUNITY LEADER
Good grief.....you name it, I have thought it.  I don't want to list what I have been through because I don't want to project it onto you.  But let's just say that what people write on this forum, except for the one about the strange odor they are emiting, I have pretty much been through.  Some lasted longer than others.  For example HOCD was just kind of a blip that I had but didn't last long because I was off to the races and onto another thought and then another thought.  I call it OMG or obsessive mind game.  
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Avatar universal
Hey I've had this Breathing OCD for the past 2 months, can you help me with any tips on what I should I do first and what has helped you?
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Avatar universal
I'm going through this exact issue. Would love to get an update from the original poster.
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9784446 tn?1421337046
do some things like
1)walk vary fast
2)close ur eyes and concentrate on ur breathing
3)go for a run
4)tie a cloth around ur nose and remain in that position for some time
5)do some breathing exercises which involves stopping breathing for some time
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Avatar universal
I'm going through this exact issue. Would love to get an update from the original poster.
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Avatar universal
I am also in the same boat and was wondering how things worked out for the original poster.
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Avatar universal
I am wondering the same thing. Any update?
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Avatar universal
FIRST, AND VERY IMPORTANTLY, you DO NOT have OCD if you have never had  a "scary" obsessive "issue" like this. It's just that simple. If you actually do have it diagnosed severely then this may or may not be of help.

So, I thought that I had this same problem (and I'm 15, an actual possible age to get OCD). I asked all of my family how to deal with this and they just simply told me to shutup. I eventually did, realizing that I was just bored and thinking I had a problem.

The truth is that you don't! You lack mental control of your thoughts most likely (such as in my case). You may have a small amount of seretonin deficiency causing this, with, with a healthy routine, will in turn, fix itself. Or you may have a VERY small amount of OCD. If this is it, then because it's so minor, all that you will need is a very small amount of SSRI's, which, you won't know you have forgotten of this wierd thought because you will not be able to remember it.

The answer is this:
1-Realize that there is absolutely nothing go be scared of, other than any thing that actually involves pain, such as dying itself.
2-THINK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE.
3-Yep, that's 100% it. It may take a few hours, but eventually you will.
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Avatar universal
OMG! I literally cannot believe that our stories are so similar. Same exact thing happened to me and I’ve been blaming myself for clicking on that bloody meditation video on YouTube!!!!
Mine is so bad that I decided life isn’t worth living anymore! I can’t lie down during the day to rest or once I wake up in the morning. I will constantly monitor my belly Movement and when I don’t do it I feel like I’m unconsciously holding it and get pains and needles in my head and arms. Please let me know if anything has helped you! I was even considering getting ECT done!
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1 Comments
I'm guessing this isn't the only thing you've found to obsess about to the point you disrupt your life.  That's your problem, not the video.  Not meditation.  When they say to "watch" your breathing, they just mean when you start to think go back to focusing on your breath.  Not fixate on your breath.  If you do that, the question is, is this a regular problem, if it is you have an anxiety problem, and if you do, what have you done to treat it?  
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