Use the 4-7-8 breathing technique to ease stress and anxiety

I listen to Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s brilliant Feel Better Live More podcast frequently, especially his short bitesize episode, and have been using this technique to deal with anxiety and panic attacks to great effect since first hearing it last month. Taken from his episode with Dr Andrew Weil, a pioneer in the field of integrative health, some of the direct content is summarised below. Following that, I’ll explain how this has recently worked for me.

I would say that learning and practicing methods of neutralising the harmful effects of stress is right up there with nutrition and physical activity and adequate rest and sleep is one of the planks of healthy living. I don’t think it’s possible to live without stress but I think you can learn to manage it and not let it damage the body or mind. I think that learning how to regulate the breath is the most time and cost effective method of reducing anxiety, or promoting calmness, and I’ve been astonished at how little scientific attention has been paid to breath.

The 4-7-8 breath is a yoga technique and I teach it to every patient I come into contact with. It’s so time efficient. The method is simply breathing in quietly through your nose to a count of 4, holding your breath for a count of 7, and blowing air out forcibly through your mouth to a count of 8, and repeating that for 4 breath cycles. When you’re first learning it and doing that twice a day religiously, that’s all, and by simply doing that over the time, over the space of a month or two months, you really change the dynamics of the involuntary nervous system. It lowers heart rate, lowers blood pressure, improves digestion. Really amazing results and it takes 30 seconds twice a day.  

This is by far the most effective anti-anxiety measure that I’ve come across.  I have used it with patients with the most extreme form of panic disorder successfully, although in some cases it took some time and regular practice for them to get control of it. When people are panicked or in anxiety states, the subjective experience is usually of being out of control. If you deal with that by giving a medication, you reinforce the false idea that control is external. If, when a person discovers that they have within them the ability to control an anxiety state by regulation of the breath, it’s a revelation, it’s totally empowering, and that method becomes more effective with repetition and creates greater independence.  

I’ve used this technique on a daily basis since first listening to the podcast and it does work for me. As a daily practice, it’s certainly beneficial, though it’s particularly powerful during those moments when things can get a little too much, such as when it seems I have too much to do and not enough time (certainly during my ‘day job’) or when I’m in situations which I’m not 100% comfortable with. Simply stepping back for a minute and doing this exercise for 4 cycles seems to refocus my mind and give me some much needed clarity. Concentrating on nothing but my breathing for a minute certainly defuses any initial stress or anxiety and provides a clearer view on what to do next. I’m not saying it will work for everyone in every situation of stress, anxiety or panic but please do consider giving it a go – the results may well surprise you.

As always, thanks for reading and take care.

Best wishes.

Mick

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