Manual breathing mode: What is it and how to stop it

If you’ve ever found yourself in a state of near panic and noticed the switch from normal to manual breathing mode, you’ll want to know how to stop it. Breathing in manual mode can induce anxiety, and reduce our ability to focus, so it’s also important to understand why it’s happening. Instead of breathing manually, our day-to-day breathing should be done relaxed and subconsciously.

Read on to understand what is manual breathing mode, and the different ways we can reprogramme our minds and nervous system to prevent this from happening again.

Reddit meme on manual breathing

What is manual breathing mode?

Manual breathing mode is when we attempt to take back control of our breath consciously. Instead of breathing naturally in our subconscious, we are forcefully taking deep breaths to increase our blood oxygen levels.

Manual breathing can occur when we are in a state of stress. When we feel anxious or panicky our sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight mode) is activated which increases our respiratory and heart rates. Our default response to this situation can be switching to manual breathing mode to try and calm our nervous system by stimulating our parasympathetic response.

I relate manual breathing mode to purposely breathing heavily or forcefully during a state of anxiety or panic. Technically manual breathing can be part of a breathing exercise where we consciously practice breathing. However, the important distinction in manual breathing is the state your body is in. Is your body tense and stressed or is it calm and relaxed? We should all aim to breathe deeply, slowly in a relaxed state.

Why manual breathing can be bad

Breathing manually can be the cause of some physical issues. Forcefully breathing can cause us to stiffen up and hyperventilate, reducing the amount of oxygen we can actually intake. This lack of oxygen means we negatively impact our ability to focus. As mentioned before focusing too much on manual breathing can exacerbate an anxious or panicked state.

As you can see manual breathing can affect our quality of life and our ability to perform, so how do we stop it?

How to stop manual breathing

Nasal breathing

I have written a separate article on just nasal breathing, I’d recommend checking it out as there are so many benefits to simply breathing through your nose rather than your mouth.

Nasal breathing can be a struggle at first if you’re not used to it, but slowly with consistent practice, it becomes much easier. Eventually, it becomes the norm, and you will thank yourself for it.

To summarise why nasal breathing is good for preventing manual breathing;

  • It is the natural way to breathe!
  • Produces more nitric oxide which improves airflow and relaxes our airways
  • Supports the healthy regulation of our autonomic nervous system. This means we feel more relaxed and experience less fight-or-flight
  • Improves oxygen intake and lung function, and lowers our heart rate and blood pressure
  • Reduced stress and anxiety


Focus on enjoying more activities that help you relax. If you walk around all day stiff in fight or flight then your breath becomes shallow. Over time this becomes chronic (your default state). It’s important to practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques that you enjoy.

These activities help regulate our autonomic nervous system by activating our parasympathetic system (rest and digest). Over time our body relaxes and is able to better carry out basic bodily functions such as breathing. By practicing mindfulness, we can increase our awareness of how our minds and physical bodies work. Developing this innate intelligence will help resolve manual breathing and allow us to remain calm in our ability to breathe properly.

Activities that can promote mindfulness and relaxation may include;


Posture is key to living a healthy happy life, and has a massive impact on our ability to handle stress. How our joints and muscles are aligned is vital to the strain we put on our body. Not only does posture have a huge effect on our physical health, but also our mental health. We commonly associate a strong posture with confidence and power, and a slouched posture with someone who is upset or depressed.

Having a good posture opens up our diaphragm and improves our ability to breathe effectively. Good posture is also key to being able to relax which will help improve manual breathing habits.

Focus on exercises that promote good posture and mobility. If you are someone who sits down a lot it’s likely you need to focus on stretching your quads and hip flexors and strengthening your back muscles to combat forward head posture.

Nasal breathing also has a positive impact on maintaining a more upright posture due to better rib mobility.

Key Takeaways

Manual breathing mode can be a thing of the past with consistent work on managing anxiety, and stress and consciously working on improving your breath. Learning more about the autonomic nervous system and activities that activate our parasympathetic system can be a huge help in increasing our awareness of what can keep us relaxed.

For me personally, practicing nasal breathing during normal day-to-day activities has helped improve my breathing capacity massively. These activities might include sitting at my desk working, exercising, walking the dog, or settling into an ice bath. I had to slowly work my way into nasal breathing becoming my default way to breathe due to chronic stress forcing shallow mouth breathing to be my default.

Wim Hof method has been another huge help in increasing my lung strength and capacity, I do this breathing exercise every morning which involves repeated deep inhalations/exhalations and timed breath holds.





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