478 Breathing Technique For Anxiety

Vicky Davis

Reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP

Written by Rachel Sacks

Updated 01/15/2023

What’s the 4-7-8 breathing technique? We have all the details.

In this fast-paced and frantic world, we’re all looking for ways to relax. Whether you’re dealing with normal stressors from daily life or anxiety disorders, you could probably use a deep breath or two to help you calm down.

Taking a breath may seem intuitive, but sometimes we need to invest more mindfulness in our airways to help us reset. And while practicing mindfulness might seem indulgent, it’s vital for your mental health.

There are easy ways to reset — like the 4-7-8 breathing technique, a controlled breathing pattern that can help you calm your mind, relax and even sleep better.

This guide will explain what the 4-7-8 breathing method is, its benefits and how to use it the next time you feel stressed or anxious.

Designed by integrative medicine specialist Andrew Weil in 2015, the 4-7-8 breathing exercise is a type of intentional breathwork to relax and calm both the mind and body. Also known as “relaxing breath,” the 4-7-8 method has roots in the ancient yoga practice of focusing on the breath.

While focusing on your breath is a good way to relax, rhythmic breathing can help even more to calm yourself down. Slow, controlled breathing — like the 4-7-8 technique — has been found to improve emotional control and psychological well-being.

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So, how exactly does the 4-7-8 breathing exercise work?

4-7-8 breathing focuses your attention on regulating your breath rather than your thoughts or worries. This method is similar to other techniques like:

This breathing technique also activates the parasympathetic nervous system — the system responsible for relaxing your body after stressful or dangerous periods.

The parasympathetic nervous system works after your sympathetic nervous system — also known as the “fight-or-flight” response — kicks in when you become stressed or anxious. This causes common anxiety symptoms like shallow breathing, increased heart rate and sweating.

Fortunately, 4-7-8 breathing can reduce anxiety symptoms and provide other benefits to help you relax and reduce stress.

Mindfulness — the practice of being fully present — is a proven relief method for anxiety. One small study even found that mindfulness-based therapy was similar to escitalopram in effectively treating anxiety disorders, an antidepressant commonly prescribed for anxiety.

Therapy and medication can go a long way in helping you learn how to manage anxiety. Another option you can practice anywhere or anytime? 4-7-8 breathing.

The 4-7-8 focuses on controlled, slow breathing patterns. Deep breathing techniques — also known as diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing or belly breathing — cause a relaxation response.

Similarly, when your parasympathetic nervous system is activated by deep breathing exercises, it can help calm anxiety and reduce stress levels.

4-7-8 breathwork can help calm your mind, as putting the focus on counting your breaths can take attention away from anxious or troubling thoughts.

Calming your mind and reducing anxiety levels can also help you get to sleep faster. The 4-7-8 breath exercise has been found to put your body in the right state for deep sleep by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure.

The 4-7-8 breathing technique can be broken down into three basic steps: breathing in for four seconds, holding the breath for seven seconds, then breathing out for eight seconds. That said, there’s more to the practice to reap the full benefits of this simple technique.

Although breathing might seem intuitive and not like it needs instructions, specific pointers can help ensure you’re practicing the 4-7-8 breathing exercise correctly.

Start With an Exhale

Any deep breathing exercise should start with releasing any air so you can begin on an inhale. Release your breath through your lips, making a “whooshing” sound in the process.

Also, make sure you’re in a comfortable seated or lying position. This will allow you to fully relax.

Inhale Through the Nose

Start your first breath by inhaling through the nose while counting in your head to four. Find a pace that works for you or keep track with your watch to ensure you’re not going too slow or too fast.

You should also remember to keep your tongue positioned toward the roof of your mouth, lightly touching the back of your front teeth.

Hold Without Straining

Next, hold your breath for seven seconds without straining or stressing yourself.

Exhale and Count

Finally, exhale slowly for a count of eight seconds, fully pushing the air out of your lungs.


You’ve completed one cycle of breath. Now repeat the steps for three more breath cycles.

You may experience lightheadedness or dizziness when you first try this breathing method as a result of breathing from your diaphragm.

If you can’t hold your breath for seven seconds, try a shortened version of the 4-7-8 exercise by inhaling for two seconds, holding for three and a half seconds, and exhaling for four seconds.

The more you practice the technique, the better you’ll get at it. Try practicing twice a day to see results.

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The 4-7-8 breathing method is a simple deep breathing exercise that can help you relax, reduce anxiety and lower stress levels.

By focusing your attention on your breath instead of anxious thoughts and worries, you can enact your body’s relaxation response and reduce anxiety symptoms. You can also use the 4-7-8 technique to get into a deep sleep sooner.

Simply inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for seven, and fully exhale for eight seconds. Beyond the relaxing benefits this technique brings, you can practice the 4-7-8 technique just about anywhere, anytime you need to destress.

11 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. 4-7-8 Breathing Method For Sleep and Relaxation. (2022, September 6). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from
  2. Zaccaro, A., Piarulli, A., Laurino, M., Garbella, E., Menicucci, D., Neri, B., & Gemignani, A. (2018). How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 12, 353.
  3. Retrieved from
  4. Alternate Nostril Breathing: How & Why To Practice. (2022, September 7). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from
  5. Brock, L. (2017, January 20). Anxiety Exercises: Mindfulness, PMR & Breathing Exercises for Anxiety Relief. Health Blog. Retrieved from
  6. Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS): What It Is & Function. (2022, June 6). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from
  7. Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS): What It Is & Function. (2022, June 6). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from
  8. Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress. (2019, October 30). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from
  9. Hoge E.A., Bui E., Mete M., Dutton M.A., Baker A.W., Simon N.M. (2022, November 09). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Escitalopram for the Treatment of Adults With Anxiety Disorders: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. Retrieved from
  10. Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response. (n.d.). Harvard Health. Retrieved from
  11. Vierra, J., Boonla, O., & Prasertsri, P. (2022). Effects of sleep deprivation and 4-7-8 breathing control on heart rate variability, blood pressure, blood glucose, and endothelial function in healthy young adults. Physiological reports, 10(13), e15389. Retrieved from

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Vicky Davis, FNP

Dr. Vicky Davis is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 20 years of experience in clinical practice, leadership and education. 

Dr. Davis' expertise include direct patient care and many years working in clinical research to bring evidence-based care to patients and their families. 

She is a Florida native who obtained her master’s degree from the University of Florida and completed her Doctor of Nursing Practice in 2020 from Chamberlain College of Nursing

She is also an active member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

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