Hello Projectees, checking in with y’all this fine Sunday! This post is part 1 of a report on my experiences and the types of results I got with three simple anxiety-reducing techniques. If you are in the throes of figuring your anxiety out, let me help you find some sense of direction by sharing some of these experiences with you.
I’ve tried many-a hacks, tips, tricks, approaches to either get anxiety relief now, or eventually, short-term, or long-term. And, I’ve figured out what works for me, and what doesn’t. This may not wholly be the case for you, but as many of these function through the same biological, framework we all have, this post can save you some time, and become a guide and a reference to help you figure out what could or could not work for you.
Simple anxiety-reducing technique 1: 4-7-8 breathing
4-7-8 breathing is a type of deep (belly) breathing exercise to breathe, and involves cycles of: 4s inhalation, 7s breath-holding and 8s exhalation, mimicking the shorter-inhale longer-exhale of natural deep breathing (1), supplemented by breathing-holding which communicates to the brain that not only are you relaxed enough to breathe deeply, you are relaxed enough to be holding your breath. This is said to upregulate your “rest and digest” parasympathetic system to relax you, and downregulate the anxiety-triggering “fight or flight” sympathetic system (2).
This exercise, as with other deep breathing exercises, is also said to allow deep breathing to be etched into your breathing muscle memory such that in the long-term, you will automatically breathe deeply, with reduced anxiety.
With this tempting logic, of course I had to try it for myself. I did it once, did it again, and now, it’s a part of my regular daily routine. More or less every single time, it’s worked to relax me physically within 5-10 minutes, even if my mind was still spurring out anxious thoughts. It’s my go-to immediate calm-down-er. I’ve also noticed that the deep breathing persists longer and longer the more I do the exercise. Deep breathing actually become relatively habitual only a few weeks after picking 4-7-8 breathing up!
I haven’t got anything bad at all to say in terms of immediate effects, and long-term anxiety-reducing effects are amazing as well. (However, do note that it likely isn’t the all-conquering anxiety solution you are looking for.) Check out the GIF I use below.
My final verdict: works very well immediately (10/10) and helps in the long-term as well (7/10).
Simple anxiety-reducing technique 2: square (box, 4×4) breathing
Square breathing (or box, 4×4 breathing) is another type of deep breathing exercise that’s founded on similar mechanisms, using deeper breathing to signal to the nervous system that everything is okay, as well as habitual muscle memory. It is said to “emphasize control” via counts of 4 (3), involving repeated cycles of 4s inhalation, 4s holding, 4s exhalation and 4s holding again. (See? Like a square).
This exercise I have tried around 5 times for immediate relief. While it was definitely slower-paced than my anxious, shallow-breathing, I found I didn’t feel as satisfied with only 4s of exhalation. It was calming to a certain extent, but wasn’t able to go all the way (like 4-7-8 breathing). There also wasn’t a lot of noticeable long-term effects, but 5 times may not be enough to say for sure.
Perhaps with 8 whole seconds of breath-holding, 4 whole seconds of inhalation, 4s of exhalation just wasn’t as “relaxed” enough relative to the other parts of the cycle, which may hold back the physical relaxation. However, there’s tons of support for this this method out there, just see here and here and here. All in all, with so much support, it’s likely that this could still be a very good breathing exercise for you. Check out the GIF below.
My final verdict: works in the short-term and likely long-term but it’s not the best (7/10).
Simple anxiety-reducing technique 3: whole-body muscle tensing & relaxation
This is a simple anxiety-reducing technique I found while scouring the Internet for ways to effectively overcome anxiety. It comes from this YouTube video. Basically, you take a deep breath and hold it in, then tense all the muscles in your body (yes, even your eye muscles) as hard as you can for 5-10 seconds, and then release the muscles all at once as you slowly exhale.
This is said to be a very effective trick which can work in both the short and long-term. I believe this method may have mechanisms similar to that of progressive muscle (by muscle) relaxation (PMR).
Anxiety can manifest physically as muscle tension. When you clench a muscle and then relax it, this communicates to the body that there’s little need for extra oxygen and the fight or flight response, lowering the anxiety (4). Once practiced often enough, you become good at controlling muscle tension and directly reducing the anxious response (4). Thus, in the case of this specific method, it would be like progressive muscle relaxation, except with all muscles at once.
And so, I gave this several tries, within the same day. As I expected, there was a reduction in muscle tension all over the body which made me feel a bit better physically, but it only lasted for a moment. It didn’t erase the feeling of anxiety entirely as there were non-muscle-tension symptoms such as tingling, and dry throat. However, given the scientific literature backing up PMR and thus this (e.g. 5, 6), I believe enough training can put you in enough muscle control to impact even the non-muscle symptoms. I ended up not choosing this way because there were other methods I preferred over this one.
My final verdict: works immediately to reduce anxiety-driven muscle tension briefly; practice required for longer-lasting, beyond muscle tension anxiety relief. (6/10)
That’s all for today’s post, Projectees. I hope you have learned something new about the 3 discussed simple anxiety-reducing techniques, based on my experiences. Do note that these practices are not meant for eradicating your anxiety — that requires changes in thought patterns, but nevertheless, they can help you feel better.
Just for you, two tested & tried ways that definitely do not work.
- Fighting the anxiety. (Read this post to learn why).
- Hoping the anxiety would miraculously go away. You have to be proactive in your journey to recovery. Hoping without taking action is not going to make the aberrant psychological and physical issues go away.
Let me know what you think in the comments below and share if you enjoyed this post! Keep an eye out for part 2.