Breathing is something that we do automatically, without even thinking about it. However, taking control of our breath can be an incredibly powerful tool in reducing stress and anxiety, improving sleep, and promoting overall well-being. One popular deep breathing method that has gained popularity in recent years is the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
In this article, I will explore the benefits of this breathing technique, how to do it, and tips for incorporating it into your daily routine.
What Is the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique?
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a breathing exercise that is designed to help calm the mind and body. It is based on the principle of deep breathing, which helps to reduce stress and anxiety by slowing down the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and promoting relaxation. The technique involves inhaling for four seconds, holding the breath for seven seconds, and then exhaling for eight seconds.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is incredibly simple to do and can be done anywhere, at any time. Most people who try it say that they instantly feel calmer— even as they are exhaling their first breath. Here are the steps.
How To Do the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
- Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose, counting to 4 as you inhale.
- Hold your breath for a count of 7.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth, counting to 8 as you exhale. Try to make a whooshing sound as you exhale.
- Take a moment and allow the calm to wash over you.
- Repeat as many times as you would like.
Benefits of the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
There is scientific evidence to suggest that deep breathing, including the 4-7-8 breathing technique, can have numerous benefits for both the mind and body. Here are a few ways that this technique has been shown to be beneficial.
1. Instantly reduces stress and anxiety
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a powerful tool for reducing stress and anxiety. By slowing down the breath and taking deep, deliberate breaths, we activate the body’s relaxation response, which counteracts the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety.
When we are stressed or anxious, we tend to breathe faster and more shallowly. At the same time, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, which increases our heart rate and tenses our muscles. Deep and slow breathing has the opposite effect, as it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which forces our bodies to relax and causes us to feel less stressed and anxious.1,4
Therefore, this technique is particularly useful in moments of high stress, such as before a job interview or public speaking, when we need to calm our nerves and be at our best.
2. Improves sleep quality
One of the most well-known benefits of the 4-7-8 breathing technique is its ability to promote relaxation and improve the quality of sleep. Practicing this technique before bedtime can help slow down the body and create a more peaceful state of mind.
Several studies have shown that deep breathing can improve the quality of sleep by reducing symptoms such as difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.1,2 Therefore, the 4-7-8 breathing technique can be particularly helpful for those who struggle with insomnia or those who simply have trouble sleeping due to racing thoughts.
3. Increases focus and concentration
In addition to its immediate benefits, the 4-7-8 breathing technique can also be a powerful tool for improving focus and concentration.3 By bringing our attention to the breath, we can train our minds to focus on the present moment. This can help to reduce distractions and increase productivity, making it easier to stay on task and achieve our goals.
This technique, therefore, can be particularly useful for students, professionals, and anyone who needs to stay focused and engaged for long periods of time.
4. Improves overall well-being and wellness
The 4-7-8 breathing technique has been shown to have numerous other benefits for overall well-being. A study found that regular use of deep breathing techniques can help to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as improve feelings of emotional well-being.5
Additionally, deep breathing has been shown to improve digestion (through its activation of the parasympathetic nervous system) and reduce symptoms such as bloating and constipation.6 Deep breathing has even been shown to boost the immune system by reducing inflammation and promoting relaxation.7
Tips for Using the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
Incorporating the 4-7-8 breathing technique into your daily routine can be an effective way to manage stress and improve overall well-being. Here are a few tips to help you make this technique a regular part of your daily routine:
- Set aside time each day to practice the technique. Schedule a specific time each day to do the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Perhaps set a daily reminder on your phone. In general, it can be helpful to practice in the morning to help set a peaceful tone for the day, or before bed to help you relax and unwind, or during your lunch break to help you refocus for the rest of the day.
- Use the technique whenever you feel stressed or anxious. The 4-7-8 breathing technique can be used inconspicuously in the moment whenever you feel stressed or anxious. Taking a few seconds to focus on your breath can help calm your mind and relax your body. By using this technique regularly, you can even train your body to respond to stress in a more calm and measured way.
- Make it a habit. Practicing the 4-7-8 breathing technique regularly can help train your mind and body to relax more easily, making it an essential tool for managing stress and anxiety in the long run. To establish this healthy habit, keep doing this breathing technique on a daily basis, even if you feel it’s not making a difference. Over time, you will begin to feel the benefits of this technique and it will become second nature.
Breathing Your Way to Health
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is just one of many breathing exercises that can be used to reduce stress and promote relaxation. By focusing on the breath and practicing deep, deliberate breathing, not only are you able to relax and better take control of the moment, but you can train your mind and body to handle stress more effectively in the future.
Like with any self-care habit, the more you practice this breathing technique, the easier it becomes, and the more you’ll realize how powerful of a tool it is.
Of course, while the 4-7-8 breathing technique is a simple and effective tool, it is not a substitute for professional help if you are dealing with major chronic stress or severe anxiety. If you are struggling with these issues, it is important to seek the help of a trusted mental health professional who can provide support and guidance.
In conclusion, the 4-7-8 breathing technique is a valuable tool for reducing stress, promoting relaxation, and improving overall well-being. By incorporating this technique into your daily routine, you can train your mind and body to relax more easily, making it easier to cope with the challenges of daily life. So why not give it a try right now and allow yourself to feel more relaxed and at ease?
- Zaccaro A, Piarulli A, Laurino M, et al. How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing. Front Hum Neurosci. 2018;12:353. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00353
- Geng X, Li S, Chen X, Lin L. The effects of slow breathing on insomnia: A systematic review. Chin J Nurs. 2016;51(4):519-525. doi:10.1189/j.issn.0254-1769.2016.04.017
- Ma X, Yue ZQ, Gong ZQ, et al. The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Front Psychol. 2017;8:874. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874
- Jerath R, Crawford MW, Barnes VA, Harden K. Self-regulation of breathing as a primary treatment for anxiety. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2015;40(2):107-115. doi:10.1007/s10484-015-9279-8
- Streeter CC, Gerbarg PL, Saper RB, Ciraulo DA, Brown RP. Effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Med Hypotheses. 2012;78(5):571-579. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2012.01.021
- Kovacic K, Ziemann AE. Gastrointestinal Physiology and Function: Regulation and Dysregulation Through Breathing Techniques, Bodywork, and Mindfulness-Based Interventions. Front Psychiatry. 2021;12:593338. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.593338
- Maes M, Leunis JC. Normalization of leaky gut in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is accompanied by a clinical improvement: effects of age, duration of illness and the translocation of LPS from gram-negative bacteria. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2008 Dec;29(6):902-10. PMID: 19112401.
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