Breathing can lower emotional arousal

Use your breath as a natural, simple and effective way to control your anxiety level. Deep breathing techniques produce a bodily response that lowers your feeling of anxiety and stress in a very physical way.

Activation of the ‘rest and digest’ response

Deep breathing techniques all have one thing in common, they work by activating a natural bodily response called, ‘rest and digest’.

Our out-breaths stimulate the body’s natural relaxation mechanism by activating the ‘rest and digest’ response.

Activation of the rest and digest response acts as the ‘off switch’ for the ‘fight or flight’ response. Both responses can’t operate at the same time.

The ‘fight or flight’ response is our survivable response. It prepares our body to cope with danger by giving us the energy and capability to either escape the danger or fight for our life. The physical sensations we feel following activation of ‘fight or flight’ response are what we call stress and anxiety.

A longer out breath

Deep breathing techniques that incorporate a longer out breath than in-breath (such as 7/11 breathing) are more effective at quickly lowering the physical symptoms of anxiety than breathing techniques in which the out-breath is the same length as the in-breath.

Practicing a breathing technique like the 7-11 Breathing Technique a few times a day will lower your overall anxiety and stress levels in the long term.

The 7-11 Breathing Technique

7-11 Breathing is a powerful technique to help you experience mental and physical well-being. You can do it anywhere – in bed, on a bus or the train, even whilst walking – but avoid doing it when you are driving or operating machinery because it will make you feel drowsy.

Here is how you use your breath the 7/11 way, and it is as easy as it sounds:

1.     Breathe in for a count of 7 (at a speed which suits your lungs! For most people, this
is faster than one count per second.).

Make sure that when you are breathing in, you are doing deep ‘diaphragmatic breathing’ (your diaphragm moves down and pushes your stomach out as you take in a breath) rather than
shallower higher lung breathing.

You can check that you are doing this right, by lying on the ground and placing a hand on your stomach. As you breath in, your hand should move down as your diaphragm moves down, and as you breath out it should rise as your diaphragm moves up.

2.     Once you reach 7 pause and say a ‘trigger’ word such as: calm, relaxed, peace, excited.
Saying this word acts like a positive suggestion to yourself. By saying the word,
you are activating the feelings you associate with that word. You can say the
word inside your head or out loud.

3.     Then breathe out for a count of 11, at the same speed that you used for breathing in.

If you find that it’s difficult to lengthen your breaths to a count of 11 or 7, then reduce the count to
breathing in for 3 and out to 5, or whatever suits you best, as long as the out-breath is longer than the in-breath.

Practice for at least two minutes each time

Continue in this way for 2-15 minutes, or longer if you have time, and enjoy the calming effect it will have on your mind and body. A bonus of 7-11 breathing is that the very act of counting to 7 or 11 is a distraction technique, taking your mind off your immediate worry thoughts.

The more often you use the 7/11 technique the more effective it will be for you.

Practice at least once a day every day

This technique may take some discipline and practice to master. It works best if you first practice it daily before applying it in situations that might feel challenging.  Breathing this way is a fast way to relax your body and mind. But this means that after a few minutes you are likely to feel drowsy and your mind is likely to wander. This is normal! The challenge is to find your own way to allow yourself to become deeply relaxed without forgetting to keep counting.

Keep practicing even if at first it seems too hard or seems not to work. You are developing a valuable life skill and habit that will change your life.

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