4-7 breathing: How deep breathing make you feel more relaxed and how to do it effectively.

Breathing deeply is an essential tool to combat anxiety. It isn’t a cheap ‘mind trick’ or a gimmick but is evidenced by the science of how our nervous system works and lowers our anxiety in a very physical way.

Knowing why this type of breathing works can be helpful in providing an extra layer of understanding which might encourage more of us to try this simple and effective tool to control our anxiety levels.

Deep breathing techniques work by stimulating our parasympathetic nervous system. You may have heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response, and the parasympathetic nervous system is simply the opposite of that – and stimulates a natural bodily response sometimes coined ‘rest and digest’.

The out-breaths are key to the process: longer out-breaths decrease our blood pressure and slow our heart rate – lowering our emotional arousal – i.e. anxiety – in the process.

Practising the 4-7 breathing technique a few times a day will lower your overall stress levels in the long term.

It is really as simple as it sounds and here’s how you do it:

Breathe in for a count of 4 (or 7 if you prefer). Make sure that when you breathe in, you are doing deep ‘diaphragmatic breathing’ so that your diaphragm moves down and pushes your stomach (below the navel) out as you take in a breath. Shallower higher lung breathing is not effective. If you put your hand on your tummy while you breathe, you should be able to feel it inflating like a balloon when you breathe in.

Breathe out for a count of 7 (or 11 if you prefer). Again, place your hand on your tummy and feel the part of your tummy below your navel deflate as you breathe out. Some people have trouble dispelling all their breath and find it helpful to use a mantra used in yoga practice: Sa-Ta-Na-Ma. By saying Sa-Ta-Na-Ma you will dispel all of your breath in a slow, controlled manner.

Do this 10-20 times, concentrating on the counting and feel the sense of calm flow in.

Some people prefer a longer count of 7-11. Or some people prefer a shorter count of 3-5 – it really doesn’t matter as long as your out-breath is longer than your in-breath and you feel the part of your tummy below your navel moving in and out.

Continue in this way for 5-10 minutes or longer if you have time – and enjoy the calming effect it will have on your mind and body. An added bonus is that the very act of counting is a distraction technique, taking your mind off your immediate concerns.

As your counsellor I am able to coach you in this important technique, as well as offering many other tools and techniques that can effectively help you manage your anxiety. Please call me for more information, I would love to hear from you.