Waiting With Bated Breath! – 10 Reasons We Hold Our Breath 

Often times we’re completely unaware of our momentary paused breathing, yet other occasions we intentionally cease our oxygen supply for some very unique reasons. You may find yourself nodding your head to some of these common (or more quirky!) scenarios.

Feature Image by seyed mostafa zamani / CC 2.0

hold breath

Image by Ekke / CC 2.0

  1. Superstitions —As a teenager, I was compelled to hold my breath whenever we passed by a cemetery so you can imagine what happened when I had to attend my very first funeral! Years later, I found out many people partake in this ritual because they believe they might inhale a ghost or an evil spirit when driving by a graveyard. Another wives’ tale involves making a wish and holding your breath through tunnels or while going over bridges so it will come true. Sadly, there have been cases like this found to be the cause of traffic accidents, so stick to making your wishes over birthday candles
  2. Inhibiting Bodily Sounds—It’s a common remedy to hold your breath to interrupt persistent hiccups, but research shows this method yields success only half the time. The theory is that hiccups are an irritation of the diaphragm, causing rhythmic spasms and holding your breath may help disrupt the cycle. If you’re somewhere where sudden loud noises would be disruptive, breath holding is a common tactic used to derail a sneeze or a coughing fit as well.
  3. Photography — Folks have been known to curtail their respiration for the explicit purpose of steadying their hands and body when using a camera. With the rising popularity of Selfies today, I’m sure lots of people sing, “Take my breath away” as they click their photo lens on their Smartphones.
  4. Intimacy—You’d be surprised to discover how many people are embarrassed about their (real or perceived) bad breath and will therefore avoid exhaling while kissing or during any other friendly activity where their face is close to someone else’s. Gives new meaning to the idiom, “Well, excuse me for breathing!”
  5. Germs — Ever secretly hold your breath after someone near you sneezes or coughs in an effort to avoid catching anything. You may not be alone in this prevention technique but alas, studies don’t support its effectiveness. Washing your hands still prevails as the best method for cutting down on illness. That’s because touch is still the most common way of transferring germs.
  6. Olfactory — It goes without saying we naturally try not to breathe when disposing of garbage, changing diapers or equally “skunky” situations, but did you know many find a stranger’s perfume/cologne so offensive they hold their breath on elevator rides? Incense or strongly scented candles elicit the same behavior in others so be careful about aromas you think improve your home/office that are really causing others to “save their breath.”
  7. Safety — Since reports of the damage second hand smoke causes are substantiated, many of us will admit to holding our breath when around cigarettes, especially when walking through nightclubs or smoky casinos. The same reaction is elicited when smells like paint fumes or new carpet emissions are perceived as toxic. “She’s like a breath of fresh air” becomes a desirable compliment.
  8. Vanity — Some people restrict breathing for the express purpose of holding in their stomach so the general population views them as healthier and slimmer. It’s particularly commonplace at the beach or swimming pool. If you’re a people watcher, you might observe the physical breath-holding shenanigans some folks go through just to suck in their gut to make the trek from sand to water when they think all eyes are on them!
  9. Entertainment—Professional singers regulate their breathing when belting out long notes while dancers, gymnasts, or figure skaters will sometimes hold their breath before complex maneuvers. As an engaged audience, we often find ourselves sucking in our breath right along with them, not exhaling until the stunt is safely completed. Empathic lungs!
  10. Breathalyzer—There is a common misperception that holding your breath while an officer of the law administers this particular drunk-driving assessment will affect blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels in the results. And this is absolutely correct — several studies have shown it actually increases your BAC by 15%! Hopefully not many people have tried this trick

On what other occasions have you caught yourself altering your breathing?


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Spire is dedicated to helping you live a happier, healthier lifestyle with an easy-to-use device for mindful breathing techniques. Learn more about the benefits of breath-tracking at Spire.io.


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