The 7/11 technique is a breathing exercise whereby you breathe in for a count of 7 and out for a count 11. It is used to help alleviate and overcome symptoms of anxiety and stress. A simple yet powerful technique that facilitates relaxation helping you to regain composure.
When we experience powerful emotions, such as fear or anxiety, our brain changes from the way it usually works because it perceives a threat of some sorts. Intense emotions narrow the focus of our attention zooming in on whatever we perceive as threat in front of us. This means, we lose sight of the bigger picture. Parallel, our thoughts are polarised meaning we see things only as black or white, good or bad. We miss the shades of grey, the middle ground. It is a natural process that we know as our fight or flight response when our SNS, Sympathetic Nervous System is activated.
When we are under actual threat, we need our brain to narrow down and react quickly.
However, when our brain appraises a situation as psychological or emotional threat this can also lead us down an unfortunate route. It is important to remember that when we are in this state, we have limited access to the full power of our thinking capacity, which we might need to solve a problem at hand.
All strong emotions such as fear and anxiety but also love, excitement, frustration, anger, and disgust have this very specific effect on the way that our brain works.
All breathing techniques have in common that they work by stimulating the PNS, Parasympathetic Nervous System; this is the branch of our nervous system that is activated when we relax; rest and digest. Exhalation decreases our blood pressure, slows our heart rate and dilates our pupils, lowering emotional arousal in the process.
Think about the pattern of breathing when we sing: We take a fairly short inhale and an elongated exhale. The same principle applies for example in the Ujiayi-breathing technique in yoga and, less healthily, when smoking.
This breathing sends a message to our brain that there is no immediate threat in turn calming our emotional arousal.
How to do 7/11 breathing
1) Breathe in for a count of 7 (it doesn’t have to be 7 seconds)
2) Breathe out for a count of 11
3) Continue for 5-10 minutes, ideally longer
Ideally, try and use your diaphragm when you are breathing, i.e. do deep belly breaths. This will move your diaphragm down and push your stomach out as you take in a breath.
If you find counting 7/11 is too difficult, you can try with 3/5. The ratio of your inhalation to exhalation is what matters not the numbers per se.
You can close your eyes and listen to music whilst practicing to help your relaxation. If you find your mind is very busy, try counting out loud to distract. This should help take your mind off your immediate concerns.
The 7/11 breathing technique has been around for thousands of years. As a psychotherapist, I have used it myself and to help hundreds of people alleviate and overcome panic, anxiety and stress.
by Veronika Kloucek, MA MBACP UKCP YAP accr., Integrative Psychotherapist & Counsellor