6 / 4 / 8 Breathing
Our bodies are amazing. Even when we sleep we breathe, it just happens. When we need more oxygen for exercise, or when our bodies flight/flight/freeze system is activated, our breathing gets faster without us needing to do anything.
Consciously slowing down breathing is the most direct ways to slow anxiety and panic.
On average, we take around 15 breaths per minute, in and out. Anxiety makes us breathe faster, and panic even more so. In order to really calm our system we want to slow this by at least half.
By using the 6/4/8 technique you slow your breathing to just 6 in and out breaths per minute, allowing a message to be sent to the brain to let you know that you are safe and all is well.
Your autonomic nervous system which is made up of two parts:
1. The Sympathetic System
2. The Parasympathetic System
The Sympathetic Nervous System is the accelerator
Controlling your pupil dilation, accelerating your heart beat and increasing your breath. It responds quickly to threat and gets everything pumping. Which was perfect to help our ancestors escape mortal danger, and is still great if you need to fight something or run away. Not so helpful when the threat is a social situation, exam, or worry.
The Parasympathetic System is the brake.
Making your pupils constrict, causing your heart rate to slow, lowering blood pressure as well as stimulating digestion and your detoxification systems.
Slowing your breathing and extending your out breath kicks the parasympathetic nervous system into action and tells your body to calm down and that all is well.
Where you breathe from matters
When we are anxious or panicky, our breathing not only gets faster, it gets shallower. You can feel this by placing a hand on the top of your chest and one at the bottom of your rib cage and seeing where you are breathing from. Your diaphragm is the muscle at the bottom of your ribcage, and your lungs. Taking deep, diaphragmatic belly breaths allows your body to fill with oxygen and sends the signals to your nervous system to calm things down.
Keep your hands on your belly and your chest, sit back, give yourself room. Try 6/4/8 breathing for 10 breaths, breathing in for 6 counts, hold for 4 counts and breathe out for 8 counts. Focussing on breathing into the belly, and allowing the lungs to really fill.
How does that feel?
If you find yourself struggling and need more support, it is out there. Check out my crisis resources for further support and information.