Breathing into a paper bag has become a symbol of hyperventilating and anxiety attacks. It’s used to help balance your breathing.
This technique is helpful during an anxiety attack and panic attack because it can help regulate hyperventilation.
Hyperventilation or “overbreathing” happens when you have rapid or shallow breathing. People having an anxiety or panic attack sometimes hyperventilate.
When you hyperventilate, you exhale too much air. This can decrease the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) you have in your blood.
But isn’t less carbon dioxide good for you? Actually, having very low carbon dioxide levels in your blood causes an imbalance in your body.
Low carbon dioxide also leads to low oxygen levels. This can lower blood and oxygen flow to your brain.
How to do it
To use a paper bag to help you breathe when you’re hyperventilating, follow these steps:
Hold a small paper bag (the kind used for lunches) over your mouth and nose.
Take 6 to 12 normal breaths.
Remove the bag from your mouth and nose.
Take a few breaths.
Repeat as needed.
Do’s and don’ts
Don’t breathe into a paper bag for more than 12 breaths.
Do remove the paper bag from your mouth and nose after 12 breaths.
Do hold your own paper bag for breathing. If someone else holds it for you, they may not know when you’ve taken up to 12 breaths.