"I can't breathe!" is probably one of the scariest feelings a human being can experience. When you're anxious, panicky or phobic it can feel as if you can't get enough oxygen; that the air around you is too warm or stuffy to be soothing; or that it's impossible to take a deep, long, refreshing breath. When you get these feelings while your head is tilted back during a dental procedure, the discomfort is multiplied and often triggers terror.
The single thought, "I can't breathe," sets up a vicious cycle of fear. In a mere three or four seconds, you can go from noticing what you perceive as an irregular breathing pattern to the conclusion, "I think I'm dying." Each and every thought of danger adds to the cycle of fear. Each thought of danger heightens and prolongs your feelings of discomfort.
The only authentic way to counteract thoughts of fear and danger is to replace them with more secure, factual thoughts. Here are a few facts you can bring to mind when you think you can't breathe:
If you are aware that you're having some difficulty breathing, it means that you are thinking about what you're feeling.
The "I can't breathe" may be a feeling, yet it is also a thought.
If you really could not breathe, you would be unconscious, and it's impossible to monitor your thoughts in that state.
You have to be awake to be aware. If you're aware, you're awake!
When you feel anxious, you may be holding your breath, which contributes to your feelings of distress, or you may be breathing shallow breaths. Both of these conditions can generate the impulse to gulp a large quantity of air in through your mouth.
The antidote for a fear thought is a secure thought. Replace: "I can't breathe" with "I can breathe," or "It feels like I'm having some difficulty breathing, but I'll be fine." Squelch the thought of danger with "This feels scary, but I'm safe," or, "This is distressing, upsetting and unpleasant, but it's not dangerous."
Each threatening thought and each thought of danger has to be replaced -- one by one. What you're doing in this process is changing your inner dialogue. Instead of continuing to think the scary thoughts, you're replacing each one with a more accurate, safe thought.
Choose one secure thought offered here or create your own and memorize it. Yes, commit it to memory, just like when you were back in school. What you're doing is producing a new automatic response to the feeling. Trust me, I've used the same secure thoughts to neutralize my fear in dozens of different situations and with all kinds of disturbing and what I used to think were life-threatening, anxiety-related physical symptoms. With these types of cognitive replacement techniques, I've gone from having severe panic attacks, not being able to work and barely being able to drive to doing anything I choose to do. They work! I'm living, breathing proof that they do.
Don't expect immediate, total relief. Repeat the calming phrases in your mind several times until you feel yourself getting less tense. Repetition is the key. If you find your mind going back to even a hint of danger, start your mantra again. In fact, you may want to start the chant even before you feel any discomfort. As you're sliding down into the chair, start telling yourself, "I can breathe, I can breathe." It can help keep the scary thoughts from popping into your brain.
We can only have a single thought in a single instant. It may feel as though several thoughts are crowding in at one time, but they're not. Even though it feels like a steady stream, you can interrupt that stream with secure thoughts.
You may also want to practice nasal breathing before your appointment. Consciously practice taking deep breaths through your nose with your mouth open, maybe even with your head tilted back as it would be in the dentist's chair. The more you practice, the more adept you'll be and comfortable you'll feel. Another bonus is that deliberate attention to breathing in and out occupies the mind -- another method for taking your mind off the fear.
Some of you may know that your difficulty breathing and other sensations are due to anxiety. If you're not sure, do have your condition checked by a physician. If you only have difficulty breathing when you're in a difficult situation, it's probably anxiety-related. If you want to be 100 percent sure, discuss it with your doctor and have any tests that are suggested.
Fears are real, and so are the physical sensations that come with them. What most people don't realize is that they have the power to change their thoughts, and therefore change how they feel. Each and every one of our feelings comes from our thoughts.
Remember, only a dentist can diagnose your dental problems and offer the right treatment plan for you. If you need a dentist, call us at 1-866-970-0441 to be connected with one today.