There is a simple and highly effective technique for controlling those powerful emotions.
You have probably heard of the “fight-or-flight” response (activation of the sympathetic nervous system) which is switched on whenever we feel under threat. What happens here is that once the threat is perceived, the stress hormones (e.g. cortisol and adrenaline) are released and these activate the following bodily changes to prepare us for action, enabling us to run or fight:
- Increased heart rate – this can feel like palpitations
- Increased blood pressure – this can feel like the heart is pounding
- Dry mouth and/or digestive issues (as the blood is directed to heart, lungs and muscles and away from the digestive system)
- Faster, shallower breathing – just like when we are exercising strenuously
- Muscles tense – ready to run or fight
- Pupils constrict
- There may be an urge to urinate or defecate – as the sphincter muscles relax
- We cannot think clearly and rationally, our thinking becomes black-and-white – as the neural pathways to our thinking brain are cut off.
Certain breathing techniques, like 7:11 breathing, stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the opposite to the fight-or-flight response and it allows us to “rest and digest”. The bodily changes, which allow us to calm down, are the opposite too:
- Heart rate slows down
- Blood pressure drops
- Saliva is produced and digestion is stimulated
- Breathing is slower and deeper
- Muscles relax and tension is relieved
- Pupils dilate
- We can think more clearly – as the neural pathways to our thinking brain (neocortex) are re-established
How to do 7:11 Breathing
It is the out-breath that stimulates the relaxation response – so any breathing technique with a longer out breath that in-breath will therefore be effective in calming the body and mind.
- Breathe in for a count of 7
- Breathe out for a count of 11
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 this by placing your fingertips together on your tummy and feeling them move apart as you breath in).
Counting to 7 on the in breath and 11 on the out breath works for most people. However, for some people this can be difficult and if so, it is just as effective to use 3:5 or whatever works best as long as the out breath is longer than the in breath.
Continue for 5 – 10 minutes or longer if you have time and enjoy the relaxing benefits it brings.
If you carry out 7:11 breathing several times each day this will help lower your anxiety levels generally and the counting action is also a good way to distract yourself from negative thoughts or worries.