Anxiety can be really hard to deal with, but the next time you’re feeling anxious, try breathing it out. While it doesn’t seem like there’s any way the simple act of breathing could result in anxiety relief, it might be one of the best tools you can use—no matter where you are—to calm your body.
Jane Pernotto Ehrman, MEd, a behavioral health therapist and mind-body coach, told the Cleveland Clinic one of the reasons why anxiety comes about during the day is because you’re not paying attention to your breathing. “Regularly stopping to take some full, deep breaths keeps your brain from reaching the tipping point where anxiety takes over because you have been shallow breathing or holding your breath without realizing it,” she says.
While those full, deep breaths are helpful, having an actual method in your back pocket to use when you need it can be really beneficial, too. That’s where the 4-7-8 breathing technique comes in. Despite the exercise being incredibly simple, it can make a huge difference in helping curb your anxiety. In fact, integrative medicine expert Andrew Weil, MD, calls it a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”
“Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it, but gains in power with repetition and practice,” Dr. Weil said on his website.
“Once you develop this technique by practicing it every day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens—before you react. Use it whenever you’re aware of internal tension or stress. Use it to help you fall asleep.”
So, how exactly do you go about doing the 4-7-8 breathing technique? It’s simple. Here are the step-by-step instructions.
How to Do the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
- Sit comfortably and close your eyes, if you wish.
- Fully exhale through your mouth.
- Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for 4 counts.
- Hold your breath for 7 counts.
- Fully exhale through your mouth for 8 counts.
Dr. Weil recommends repeating this cycle for a total of four breaths. And if you want to reap the most benefits, do it at least twice a day. “You cannot do it too frequently,” he says. Your anxiety won’t even stand a chance.