The World Health Organization has labeled stress a “worldwide epidemic.” The percentage of people suffering from stress and anxiety around the world keeps rising year after year. By now, we’ve all heard about the benefits of practicing mindfulness to reduce stress. However, the very idea of practicing mindfulness can feel daunting to many of us.
So, in the hopes of making 2018 a less stressful year for you, I’m going to offer one simple, quick and foolproof method for decreasing anxiety: 4-7-8 breathing.
Here’s how it works.
Breathe in through your nose for four seconds.
Hold the breath for seven seconds.
Breathe out through your mouth for eight seconds.
Repeat this breathing pattern 3-5 times.
Try it now.
How do you feel?
I’ve found that even the biggest mindfulness skeptics feel a sense of calm and relief after doing this exercises.
Why does this simple, breathing technique have such transformative effects? Well, the 4-7-8 breathing pattern actually calms down your central nervous system by signaling to your brain to release relaxing chemicals. Inhaling for four seconds requires you to slowly and deliberately take in more oxygen. Holding your breath for seven seconds allows as much of that oxygen as possible to enter your bloodstream. Then, exhaling for eight seconds forces your lungs to expel as much carbon dioxide as possible. This pattern of breathing is the opposite of the short, shallow breaths we naturally resort to when we are stressed out, and it has a very positive effect on our bodies and minds.
Dr. Andrew Weil recommends you practice 4-7-8 breathing twice a day, which over time will retrain your natural way of breathing. Dr. Weil describes this breathing technique as a wonderful tool to always have with you. “Use it whenever anything upsetting happens – before you react,” Dr. Weil suggests. “Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep. Use it to deal with food cravings. Great for mild to moderate anxiety, this exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it.”
Personally, this exercise was a lifesaver for me during the first months of pregnancy, when my chances of miscarriage were high, and my anxiety suddenly went through the roof. My sister, Dr. Lisa Firestone, taught me the 4-7-8 breathing technique and suggested that I practice it whenever I started to get anxious. The first day, I must have done the breathing exercise a dozen times, feeling a little calmer each time. The next day, I did it four or five times. By the third day, I was feeling so much better, I only needed to use the exercise once. Whenever I get anxious or wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep, I practice 4-7-8 breathing and feel my stress ease and a sense of peace return to my body.
I hope this exercise works for you!
Watch Dr. Lisa Firestone explain 4-7-8 Breathing: