“Breathing techniques are not just ‘mind tricks’, they produce a bodily response that lowers your anxiety in a very physical way.”, HGI, Website
Deep breathing techniques all have one thing in common, they work by stimulating what is known as the Parasympathetic Nervous System. You may have heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response, the Parasympathetic Nervous System is simply the opposite of that (‘fight or flight’ is the term for the activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System) – instead of getting you ready for action, deep breathing activates a natural bodily response that can be described as ‘rest and digest’. Out-breaths decrease your blood pressure, dilate your pupils and slow your heart rate – lowering emotional arousal in the process. Practising a breathing technique a few times a day will lower your overall stress levels in the long term. It’s important to realise that it’s the out-breaths that stimulate the response, so it stands to reason that a breathing technique with longer out-breaths than in-breaths will be more effective at lowering emotional arousal.
The breathing technique I recommend which stimulates the Parasympathetic Nervous System and deactivates the ‘fight or flight’ response is called 7/11 breathing.
To practice 7/11 breathing:
Breathe in through your nose for the count of 7
Breathe out through your nose for the count of 11
It is recommended that you ensure you are breathing deep into your diaphragm while you practice this breathing technique. Your stomach will inflate like a balloon as your breathe in and deflate like a balloon as you breathe out. It can help to put your hands on your stomach to feel the inflation and deflation. If at first you find it hard to breathe in for the count of 7 and out for the count of 11 then you can try breathing in for the count of 5 and out for the count of 7. The most important factor is that your out breath is longer than your in breath as this is what sends a signal to your brain that it is safe to relax, switching on your parasympathetic nervous system. By counting your breath you are also helping focus your mind on your breathing therefore helping to stop any other thoughts. Try practicing for 5 minutes a day to start and increase over time to 20 minutes. The more you practice the easier it will become and eventually you will find yourself practicing unconsciously anytime you feel stressed. I recommend you practice first thing in the morning as soon as you wake up, before you get out of bed, therefore starting your day relaxed and practice again last thing at night before you fall asleep ensuring you fall asleep relaxed. Practicing 7/11 breathing helps regulate your nervous system therefore aiding in reducing stress levels over time.