Neuroscience Simple Neuroscience Stress Management

The breathing practice that calms anxiety and increases resilience

breathing practice; magda tabac;

Many of the resilience-building exercises and practices can take a lot of time to show results. The good thing about the breathing practice I am presenting to you today is that you can do it ‘on the spot’, without needing to physically disengage from the stressful/anxiety-inducing situation.

Deep, slow breath, with a longer and slower exhale, is one of the simplest techniques to activate our parasympathetic branch, the one in charge of rest and digest, of calming yourself.

What science shows us is that if we want to calm down using breathing, we can practice techniques such as the 4/4/8. This means that we inhale for 4 seconds, keep the air inside for another 4 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds. So, the exhale needs to be double the length of the inhale. The longer the exhale, the better the activation of the parasympathetic branch.

You can try this if you are caught in traffic and you feel like your heartbeat is increasing, or if you’re just before an important presentation, or in whatever context when you feel your heartbeat is increasing and you get stressed (because the sympathetic branch got activated, the one that sends us into fight or flight).

So, next time you are stressed or annoyed, try this breathing practice, and pay attention to only breathe through the nose: inhale 4 seconds, keep 4 seconds, exhale 8 seconds. And don’t worry if you cannot exhale for 8 seconds from the start. You can start with 2/2/4, 3/3/6 and then get to 4/4/8. It takes some time and practice for most of us to be able to exhale for so long.

And a trick to help you exhale longer is to manage the debit of your exhalation, so that you exhale less air at a time, meaning you can keep the exhalation for double the length of the inhalation.

One other important thing to remember is that breathing through the nose is the healthy, recommended way to breathe, and when we inhale, the air needs to be a deep breath, to reach our abdomen, not a superficial breath that stops at the level of the chest or lungs.

Coming back to the 4/4/8 rule: you can try that at home, if you have a smartwatch that measures your heartbeats: look at your initial value, then breathe 10 times using the 4/4/8 rule, and then check the new heartbeat level. It will certainly be smaller than beforehand.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article and found it useful.

Stay healthy, stay happy, stay safe,


PS: A big reason I write is to meet people so feel free to say Hi! on LinkedIn here or to follow my Instagram here, as I’d love to learn more about you.

Photo by Evgeny Tchebotarev from Pexels

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