Diseases & Conditions

What Is 4-7-8 Breathing?: Coping With Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most common medical disorders in the world. In fact, over 40 million adults suffer from anxiety in the U.S. alone; that’s an astounding 18.1 percent of the population. It’s also reported that only 43.2 percent of diagnosed adults are actively seeking treatment with their physicians. Further distressing is the fact that, by the age of 18, it’s expected that one-third of adolescents will present with symptoms equaling an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety can result from a variety of causes and tends to present differently in everyone. Some of the most common symptoms from this disorder are:

  • Shaking or trembling
  • Trigger avoidance
  • Heavy sweating
  • Nervousness or restlessness
  • Hyperventilation
  • Feeling tense
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleeplessness
  • Faster than average heart rate
  • Excessive worry
  • Concentration issues

If you have been experiencing any of these symptoms while previously undiagnosed and are concerned, it’s essential to consult with your doctor. Symptoms can often be disruptive to daily life, and anxiety can be better helped when treated early. Also, some symptoms can be linked to other severe medical conditions.

What Happens After Diagnosis?

Following an anxiety diagnosis, your physician or medical professional will most likely offer a variety of treatment combinations. Some of the most popular methods of treating and coping with anxiety are:

  • Anti-depressant medication
  • Anxiety medication
  • Psychotherapy
  • Breathing exercises
  • Meditation
  • Yoga or other physical exercises

Why Does Deep Breathing Help Anxiety?

As it turns out, there’s actually a scientific reason that breathing exercises can help reduce stress and anxiety-related issues. When you deep breathe, the supply of oxygen to your brain and parasympathetic nervous system is increased. This process can help promote a state of calm. Deep breathing is also shown to help because it allows you to focus your thoughts on the act of breathing, instead of other worries or stressors. The practice of mindfulness and meditating is very much centered around breathing for these reasons.

What Is 4-7-8 the Breathing Technique?

4-7-8 breathing falls into the classification of breathing exercises and techniques sometimes used to battle anxiety. Developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, this breathing method is described on his website as “the perfect, portable stress antidote, as it puts the practitioner in a relaxed state almost immediately.”

While the 4-7-8 breathing technique has not been proven scientifically, in theory, it is believed to help. As an integrative medicine physician and founder of the University of Arizona Integrative Medicine center, Dr. Weil teaches the 4-7-8 method to help in the following ways potentially:

  • Anxiety symptom reduction
  • Reduced symptoms of migraine
  • Improved management of stress
  • Reduced high blood pressure
  • Reduce aggression
  • Improved asthma symptoms

Those who suffer from sleep disorders are also known to use the 4-7-8 breathing method.

How To Do 4-7-8 Breathing

Before choosing to use the 4-7-8 breathing method, it’s essential to understand the correct way to do it. Fortunately, learning is simple, and we’ve got five simple steps to get you going. But first, let’s get familiar with some of the crucial aspects of the technique so you can maximize its effectiveness.

Before Starting, Read These Tips

  • It’s important to note the possibility of feeling lightheaded when you first begin performing this breathing technique. Try sitting down in a quiet and comfortable space before beginning.
  • Once you have become used to doing the 4-7-8 breathing, you might be able to do more than four repetitions of it; but, Dr. Weil does not advise it until you are comfortable with the technique and have gained some experience.
  • There are reports of this breathing method helping within a few days or weeks; however, according to Dr. Weil, performing it regularly twice per day can help speed up results.

Follow These Five Steps to Perform the 4-7-8 Breathing Method

  1. Exhale the air in your lungs in one long breath out. Relax your shoulders during this process.
  2. For the first four seconds, focus on breathing in and out of your nose. Stop on your final inhale.
  3. For seven seconds, hold your breath.
  4. For eight seconds, exhale your breath with force while pursing your lips and holding your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
  5. Repeat the breathing cycle four times.

4-7-8 Breathing Apps

To help with your 4-7-8 sessions, there are apps that have been developed specifically for deep breathing. Consider checking these out:

  • Box Breathe (iOS)
  • Prana Breath: Calm & Meditate (Android)
  • Insight Timer Meditation App (iOS)
  • Mindshift (iOS and Android)

Other Breathing Techniques

If the 4-7-8 breathing method isn’t your cup of tea, or if you simply want to alternate techniques, here are a few others you can try:

Abdomen (Belly) Breathing 

This deep breathing exercise is one of the most popular and widely used. You can try deep belly breathing by following the below four steps:

  1. Sit in a quiet area and relax your shoulders.
  2. Press your hands to your stomach area and breath in deeply through your nose for a count of two seconds.
  3. While continuing to press your hands on your stomach area, purse your lips and exhale for two seconds.
  4. Repeat steps as needed.

Coherent Breathing Technique

Coherent breathing takes a little longer but is the preferred breathing method for many anxiety sufferers. Here’s how you can practice this breathing technique:

  1. Begin by lying down in a quiet space and inhaling through your nose for a six-second count. Be careful not to breathe too deeply during this step.
  2. Exhale slowly for six seconds.
  3. Continue steps one and two for a maximum of ten minutes.

Focused Breathing

This breathing method is popular in meditative exercises and can be an excellent method for combating stress and anxiety. Try this:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position in a quiet area. Perform a quick check of any noticeable stress or tension you may be feeling in your body.
  2. Breathe in slowly through your nose while paying attention to how your breath is moving and affecting the rest of your body.
  3. Breathe out slowly while visualizing something calm and continuing to focus on your body’s reactions.
  4. For some, it’s helpful to picture each breath reducing their stress.
  5. Continue for as long as desired. It can help to set a timer for your focused breathing session.
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