Breathe Your Way to Calm: The 4-7-8 Technique
Moving out of pandemic mode and into in-person life again, you might expect to feel relief or even happy at the thought of getting back into your normal routines. Many people no doubt are feeling pretty excited that life in the U.S. seems to be heading back toward something like normal again. But there are plenty of us still feeling uncertain as places open up and masks become increasingly scarce. For some, the anxiety pre-dates covid and has been a constant companion for a long, long time. No matter why you find yourself feeling on edge or worried, there is a skill that I want to share with you that can be super helpful.
I’m sure that you’ve probably heard about your fight-or-flight response to stress: sweaty palms, heart racing, muscles tense, breathing fast and shallow. All of these physical changes are built into our nervous systems to help us run away from or fight off something that is trying to kill us. Of course, in today’s world, most of what is stressing us out is not a physical threat but more of a psychological stressor: problems at work, tension in our relationships, or, well…global pandemics. So, if we can’t run away or fight off what is stressing us out, what can we do to calm down and feel better? The good news is that there are multiple strategies to deal with this kind of stress. Exercise is very helpful, as it uses up the energy that our body is creating in the way that it was intended to be used. Going for a walk or run is a great way to move through the fight-or-flight stage and return to a calmer state. But if you have mobility problems, or don’t have the time to get all sweaty in the Georgia heat, another option is to change your breathing patterns.
While we can’t consciously change how sweaty our palms get or how fast our heart beats when we feel anxious or worried, we can change our breathing patterns which can then alter the whole fight-or-flight process and start calming us down. One great technique that is easy to use is called 4-7-8 breathing. Basically, you inhale through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, and slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. Repeat this pattern 4 times. This technique has been shown to be as effective in reducing anxiety as medication and there are no side effects, no problems with it being habit-forming, and it’s totally free! Here’s a video of Dr. Andrew Weil demonstrating it. Practicing this daily will give you a powerful anti-anxiety tool that you can use anytime and anywhere. It gets better and more powerful as you use it. It is also really helpful to use when you can’t fall asleep (or get back to sleep) because your brain just won’t turn off. Give it a try today!