Does Breathing Into A Paper Bag Really Work?

You feel a sudden burst of fear, your heart starts racing, your breathing becomes short, and you may think you're having a heart attack. You go to the hospital only to be told you were likely having a panic attack or anxiety attack. Usually, these attacks last for about 20 minutes, while a heart attack doesn't go away and will often just keep getting worse without medical attention (via Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center).

Nearly everyone experiences a panic attack at least once in their lives. Most go on never to have another one, while others might experience more. According to the Cleveland Clinic, about 11 percent of Americans have a panic attack each year. This rate could be higher at certain times — for example, more people experienced anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Your breathing can become erratic during a panic attack, and you might start to hyperventilate, causing an imbalance in your oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your blood. Your carbon dioxide levels decrease, and your oxygen levels increase, making your oxygen get "stuck" and unable to move from your blood to your brain and other areas (via Psychology Today). 

Breathing into a paper bag can help regulate your breathing, but you have to make sure you're doing it right. It can help some people, so it's probably worth a try.

How to use a paper bag for breathing

You're going to need a paper lunch bag, which you can find at your local grocery store or online. If you're hyperventilating, your blood is oversaturated with oxygen and doesn't have enough carbon dioxide. You breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, and this is why breathing into a paper bag can help. When you breathe out the carbon dioxide into a paper bag, you're breathing it back in when you inhale, replenishing the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. 

Do not try this if you have heart or lung problems, and only if you are 100 percent positive you're having an anxiety or panic attack, according to UCLA Health. You can make things worse if you have another health problem causing the imbalance. 

Hold the paper bag so it covers your nose and mouth and take up to 12 normal breaths. Remove the bag and breathe normally. If needed, you can repeat this process, but keep removing the bag to breathe normally in between (via Healthline). If it helps, that's great! If not, that's okay too. There are plenty of other ways to help a panic attack, such as running or partaking in another exercise.