Kick stress to the curb with  4-7-8 deep breathing
April 11, 2022

Kick stress to the curb with 4-7-8 deep breathing

Rachel Wadsley, PhD

Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard-trained medical doctor, has developed several breathing techniques to help his patients manage stress and anxiety. His 4-7-8 technique was inspired by yoga and pranayama (aka ancient breathing styles). It’s an effective and easy tool anyone can use. 

Are you breathing wrong?

This might sound strange, I mean you’re breathing right now as you read this. But the way we breathe can make us feel stressed or relaxed. When you experience something stressful you take short breaths and breathe into your chest. 

Think about seeing something scary (hello clowns). You pull in a quick breath, maybe hold it, and you’re filling your chest (not your stomach) with air. the fight or flight response activates increasing stress hormones and blood pressure. The same thing happens when you're tense, angry, or experiencing everyday stress like being stuck in traffic. 

Now imagine watching a baby or an animal sleeping. They have slow rhythmic breaths coming into their stomachs. This gentle cycle of breathing causes the body to release feel good hormones while increasing oxygen to the body and brain. 

Try this exercise now (and in times of stress). Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. See which hand is rising while you breathe. If it’s your stomach, give yourself a high five and dive into the 4-7-8 technique. If you’re breathing into your chest take a moment to pause and practice breathing into your stomach. Then you’re ready to dive into 4-7-8.   

How to do 4-7-8 breathing

This is the easiest thing you’re going to do all day! Seriously. And you’re going to feel amazing afterward. Dr. Weil recommends doing the 4-7-8 breathing practice two times a day for 30 days to see the most change. But even doing it during times of stress or anxiety can be helpful in the moment. 

Let’s breathe

  1. Find a place where you can get a place to sit with your eyes closed (no driving while doing this!). 
  2. Put your tongue on the roof of your mouth. 
  3. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds. 
  4. Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  5. Exhale forcefully through your mouth for 8 seconds. 
  6. Repeat the 4-7-8 breathing cycle three more times (4 times total). 

The length of the breaths doesn’t have to be exact. The important thing is to make your exhale about twice as long as your inhale. You can do 4-7-8 breathing up to 8 times a day, but avoid doing more than 4 times in a row. 

Benefits of deep breathing:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety (use as prevention and in the moment)
  • Improved sleep (try this before bed or to fall back asleep)
  • Lower blood pressure 
  • Increase memory and creativity 

All forms of deep breathing improve physical and emotional health. The more consistent you are with practicing moments of intentional breath the bigger the impact you will see. And consistency will help create a habit. 

If you’d like to add more mindfulness and relaxation routines into your life, trainwell (formerly CoPilot) trainers are here to support you. They’ll partner with you to create a wellness plan designed to fit into your lifestyle!

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Written by Rachel Wadsley, PhD

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