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Life is full of stressful moments. Different people have different ways to get through them, using methods they’ve identified after years of trial and error. Some people, like me, use breathing techniques to do this. I want to share with you the breathing technique that helped me get through the anxious and stressful time when I was heading towards unemployment.
My first post-college job wasn’t really “typical.” It was a 2-year assignment at a national laboratory, with no guarantee of a permanent job afterward. I applied to internal jobs starting about eight months before my “end date” but nothing really happened. The one interview I landed involved a panel of six people and felt like an interrogation.
As someone who thrives on structure, security, and certainty, this rapidly closing window of time to find a new job at the lab caused a lot of anxiety, frustration, tears, and hyperventilating.
I also started going to therapy as a result, but I covered that in another post.
When I get anxious and upset, my heart rate skyrockets and it’s really easy for me to start crying. I grew up “wearing my emotions on my sleeve,” as my mom liked to say. It contributed to the desire to stuff things inside and not show anyone this weakness but, with impending unemployment, it became a lot harder to hide it.
The lab had “career development” seminars and workshops that I attended. After one of them, I asked the instructor what kind of openings were available for the sector he worked in—which sounded interesting to me—but there were none. I know that desperation leaked into my voice, but I just barely managed to keep from crying.
I remember leaving the building determined not to cry, but my throat was closing up and the pressure just felt unbearable.
So I Breathed.
My endocrinologist, who is amazing at what she does, taught me a breathing technique several years ago at diabetes camp called 4-7-8 breathing. It lowers the heart rate and I’ve found that it eases my anxiety and stress levels. It can also be used to fall asleep faster!
Healthline has an article on the exact mechanics of 4-7-8 breathing, but I don’t follow the “rules” exactly. If I’m in a stressful situation (like walking to my car, trying not to cry) I’m not somewhere I’m “prepared to fully relax”.
If I need the benefits of this breathing technique, I’ll use it!
4 Seconds: In
Breathe in through your nose for a count of four. Breathe into your belly, not your chest. If your shoulders are moving up, the air isn’t going where you want it to. If you need to, place a hand on your stomach to feel it move out. This is where you want the air to go.
7 Seconds: Hold
Hold the breath for a count of seven. This is the most important part of the breathing cycle. Holding your breath is what triggers the stress-relief effects on your Vagus nerve. Towards the end of the seven seconds, it’ll feel like your heart is thumping loudly, but its rate is slowing down.
8 Seconds: Release
Blow the breath out through your mouth for a count of eight. When my endocrinologist taught me this, she said that you should be making noise with the out-breath. People around you should be able to hear your exhale. Healthline recommends placing the tip of your tongue behind your teeth and keeping it there the entire breath cycle, but I don’t do this consistently.
Times, Places, & Situations to Use This Breathing Technique
Despite the advice to only practice this breathing technique when you’re prepared to fully relax, you can really use it whenever you need to get a handle on your anxiety, heart rate, or emotions.
- During meditation
- When you’re upset
- When things have gotten out of your control
- If you can feel a panic attack coming
- When others frustrate you and you don’t want to snap in anger
- If you have to make a phone call you’re dreading
- Dealing with unruly or disrespectful children or strangers
- To help fall asleep faster
- Before meeting new people
- Before public speaking
- As self-care, to relax
- Whenever you feel like it
There are plenty of breathing techniques out there, including ones where you follow along with an expanding and contracting shape in a gif. Those are nice, but I’ve never come across a technique as effective as 4-7-8 breathing when it comes to reducing my heart rate and controlling anxious feelings.
For other relaxation techniques, check out Veronika Tait’s article, What to do When Feeling Anxious for No Reason: Confessions of a Chronic Worrier.
For a more in-depth guide to self-care practices for reducing stress, check out Radical Strength’s post, Self Care: Practices to Reduce Stress, Accomplish Goals, and Benefit Mind & Body.
Call to Action
Try it out right now! It takes less than 20 seconds to complete the cycle, and if you go through three cycles that’s only one minute! Anyone can spare one minute to lower their heart rate and feel calmer.
In for four… Hold for seven… Out for eight.
How did it go? Would you recommend this breathing technique to your anxious and stressed-out friends? What are your tried-and-true stress-reduction methods? Join the discussion below.