By Dr. Paul Ehrlich
A young man arrived in my office last week whom I had been treating for several years. He is a lawyer. We’ll call him Jim. He had a history of allergies, particularly to cats. Jim had recently begun dating a woman who had a dog, and this romance coincided with some difficulty breathing. He thought it might be asthma. We did a skin test and it showed no reaction. I asked him to describe his problem. He said that up to a point his inhalation was normal, but he couldn’t take a deep breath. I sketched a rising curve on a piece of paper and said, think of that as your normal breath, then drew a line cutting off the top of the curve. “Is that what your breath looks like now?” He said, exactly.
I told Jim, “The good news is that this has nothing to do with your girlfriend’s dog.” The last thing I wanted to do was to put a crimp in his love life.
Then I said, “I’ve known you for a long time. You are the oldest of several children, and first children generally bear a greater burden of parental pressure than younger ones growing up. You work in a corporate law firm, where there’s a lot of pressure. You are a perfect candidate for what we call anxiety breathing. Has anything happened recently that has you worried?”
Indeed. His firm was struggling in the slow economy and he expected to be laid off.
I asked him if he was doing anything to reduce his stress. Yes, he was seeing a therapist. And there was the new girlfriend.
These are hard times. If you have no history of asthma, but feel you can’t quite keep a deep breath and find yourself yawning to take that breath, try to relax. Take care of yourself. By all means, see your doctor, but don’t be surprised if the best thing you can do to treat your lungs is to treat your head.