A simple controlled breathing technique that might help you slow down your heart rate and breathing, and should only take a few minutes to learn.
How can this help?
Sometimes anxiety and panic attacks can make you experience physical effects that can be very frightening. In particular, a racing heartbeat or not being able to catch a breath can make you feel even more panicked or anxious.
This can create a cycle effect, where physical symptoms in turn trigger more anxiety. Breathing techniques have been found helpful by some people in reducing some of the physical symptoms of anxiety.
If you want to find out more, there are many published articles on research into breathing exercises such as
- Effect of breathwork on stress and mental health: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-022-27247-y
- Self-Regulation of Breathing as a Primary Treatment for Anxiety: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25869930
Useful terms to search for are controlled, regulated and Pranayamic breathing and attention to breath (ATB).
When shouldn’t I try this technique?
If you feel lightheaded when completing breathing exercises, or if you have previously hyperventilated when focusing on your breath, be cautious when trying controlled breathing. Consider trying this when you have someone else with you.
If you have any respiratory conditions, it may be wise to check with a medical professional before trying breathing techniques.
Before trying this technique for the first time, try to find somewhere comfortable and private to practise, if you can.
Place the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. It’s easier to breathe through both your nose and mouth if your tongue is here. You will exhale through your mouth around your tongue, but if this feels difficult, you can try pursing your lips instead.
If you find that you can't do one of the steps for long enough, try speeding up the technique slightly. The ratio 4:7:8 is more important than the length of each step.
The most important thing is that the out breath is longer than the in breath, and that you hold your breath for a period of time in between.