This 19 Second Breathing Technique Can Treat Anxiety and Stress
By changing the way you breathe, you can influence how you feel
ANXIOUS AND RELAXED BREATHING
What if I tell you there’s a strong connection between anxiety, stress, and the way you breath?
Your breathing pattern actually changes to reflect how you feel. But interestingly, this works the other way around as well.
Yes, you read that correctly. By using a simple breathing technique, you can actually influence how you feel.
But before you can start taking control of your breathing pattern you’ll need to know what changes to make.
And it might be a good idea to simply begin by becoming more aware of your own breathing.
GETTING AWARE OF YOUR BREATHING
I want you to try this simple exercise to build some breath awareness.
You want to start by lying down on your back on a flat surface, for example in your bed.
Close your eyes and place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
As you breathe naturally, pay attention to where you feel movement. Is your abdomen expanding when you inhale, or is there more movement in your chest?
You can also pay attention to how fast you’re breathing. Is your breathing pattern fast or slow?
And how about your shoulders, are they relaxed or do they feel tense?
Set aside a couple of minutes to practice breathing awareness every day. Start while lying on your back, then move on to practicing while seated and standing.
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF ANXIOUS BREATHING
If you’re often stressed or anxious you might find that your breathing is fast and/or shallow. This is known as rapid breathing and chest breathing, respectively.
This form of breathing helps you take in more oxygen, something your body needs to create energy.
This makes it a great way to breathe if you’re exerting yourself, like for example during a run.
But if we breathe too fast without moving around, it can quickly lead to something known as overbreathing or hyperventilation.
Overbreathing has a long list of uncomfortable symptoms, many of which you might be familiar with:
- Rapid heart beat
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Numbness and tingling sensations
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Increased anxiety
- Plus more…
The reason why many of these might be familiar is because they also show up during anxiety, stress, and panic.
What many people seem to miss is that these symptoms are mainly caused by the overbreathing.
THE FIGHT-OR-FLIGHT RESPONSE
Relaxed breathing is much slower than it’s anxious counterpart, and that’s really all the information we need.
If you intentionally make your breathing slower while anxious or stressed, something very interesting happens.
It forces your body and mind to start relaxing, and as a result anxiety, stress, and panic are reduced.
A scientist by the name of Dr. Benson studied this effect in the 1970s and named it the relaxation response.
One of the easiest ways to activate the relaxation response is through abdominal breathing, and you’ll learn how later in this article.
HOW TO PRACTICE ABDOMINAL BREATHING
To practice abdominal breathing, you start by lying down on your back on a flat surface. Close your eyes, place one hand on your abdomen, and the other one on your chest.
You want to keep your hands in this position to check for correct breathing. Make sure your abdomen is expanding with every inhale.
When you feel comfortable in your ability to breathe all the way into your abdomen, you no longer need to check using your hands. You can instead place them wherever they feel the most comfortable.
THE 4-7-8 BREATHING PATTERN
There are many ways to make abdominal breathing effective. But I want to teach you one of my favorites, usually called the 4-7-8 breathing pattern.
You start by inhaling through your nose for 4 seconds, all the way into your abdomen.
After the air has filled your abdomen, you want to hold it for a count of 7 seconds.
And after holding the air, you want to breathe out through your nose or pursed lips for 8 seconds.
The reason you would choose pursed lips is to better control the flow of air. It can be difficult to get the timing right while using your nose, but this is your choice.
Try to get as much air as possible out of your lungs, follow it up with a small pause, and then repeat the cycle.
You keep breathing like this until you finish your practice.
I recommend practicing this relaxation technique at least two times per day, for example in the morning and the evening.
But you can also use it whenever you start feeling anxious, stressed, or panicky throughout the day. That’s how I use it myself, and it’s helped more times than I can count.
BEWARE OF OVERBREATHING
One thing to keep in mind when trying any new breathing technique is that it’s common to feel lightheaded, dizzy, or even anxious.
If this happens, it’s most likely because you ended up breathing too deep, and it lead to overbreathing.
As you know, this is not dangerous, so there’s no reason to worry, but it can be uncomfortable.
To reduce the chance of this happening, it can be a good idea to take it easy in the beginning when you first start practicing.
Try to go through the breath cycle 3 to 4 times, then take a break.
And once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you can increase the time you spend practicing to 5 minutes or even more per session.
ALTERNATIVES IF THE 4-7-8 IS TOO DIFFICULT
In case the 4-7-8 breathing technique is too difficult, and I know it will be for many, here are some alternatives.
Because it’s not actually the amount of time that matters, but rather the 4-7-8 ratio, this is what you can do.
You can try:
- 3 seconds inhale, 5 seconds hold, and 6 seconds exhale, or
- 2 seconds inhale, 3 seconds hold, and 4 seconds exhale.
Have you tried relaxing with breathing techniques before? Did it have any effect for you? Let me know by leaving a comment below, I love hearing your feedback.