Recently, I stumbled on a tool that helped control my anxiety for the first time in my life.
The “how” is nothing new. Science is clear: to reduce anxiety, slow your breathing.
The problem, if you’re like me, is doing it.
Let’s be honest: when your mind is pacing frantically and your heart is beating a mile a minute, sitting and breathing is the last thing you want to do. In fact, your entire physiology fights against it.
Enter: Breath timers
This ridiculously simple tool works exactly the way it sounds. Inhale when you hear the sound effect, hold when you hear the next one, then exhale when you hear it again. Rinse and repeat.
Here are YouTube links to a few of my favorites:
12–14 (inhale for 12 seconds, exhale for 14)
4–7–8 (inhale for four seconds, hold for seven, exhale for eight)
Box breathing (inhale for four seconds, hold for four, exhale for four, hold for four)
“How is this different from any other guided meditation?” you might ask. Here are four reasons why they’re more powerful than anything else on the market.
1. It’s amazingly easy
Unlike breathing animations, which require focusing on both a visual and your breath at the same time, and guided meditations, which require paying attention to ever-changing instructions, breath timers only require listening for a sound effect.
This makes it considerably easier for your brain to process, providing a frictionless experience that helps you get in the zone much more quickly. They’re by far the most effortless guided breathing tool I’ve ever used.
2. It enables deeper stress relief
Breath timers allow you to close your eyes and process your thoughts. All you need is a quiet space and smartphone with YouTube or a metronome app.
Breathing animations are great, but the need to watch a visual puts you at risk of getting distracted and browsing the internet. Similarly, guided meditations can be highly effective, but the added human voice often prevents you from processing your thoughts.
In contrast, breath timers strip away all these extra stimulants. It’s a barebones, minimalist approach: just you, your breath and a sound effect. This gives you the space you need to release physical tension and become aware of what’s running through your mind.
3. It provides an excellent entry point for mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness occurs when you focus your attention on your breath.
In that regard, using a breath timer isn’t quite mindfulness, as you’re splitting your attention between your breath and the sound effect that cues you to switch to an inhale, exhale or hold.
Nevertheless, it still forces you to train a significant amount of attention on your breath, and certainly much more so than visual or voice guides. That takes you “halfway” to mindfulness and makes it easy to transition into deeper meditation at the end of your session.
This is a game changer for people who struggle with meditation like me. Breath timers are easy to follow, which makes them a great opportunity to shoehorn yourself into a mindfulness session.
4. Over time, the rhythms reprogram your subconscious
One of the greatest benefits I’ve noticed is that I’ve begun to subconsciously adopt the breathing patterns of the timers I’m using. For example, recently I’ve noticed myself automatically slowing my exhales while watching movies or drifting off for a nap.
Though I haven’t precisely measured my stress levels, I have no doubt this is having a tremendous effect on my health. As a naturally anxious person, my default baseline seems to be one of short, quick breaths, which cause low-level stress.
Breath timers are slowly retraining my subconscious to slow my breath, forcing my brain to relax rather than worry. I’m excited to see where I’ll be a year from now. My prediction: as these rhythms continue to sink deeper into my subconscious, I’ll gradually experience less and less anxiety on a daily basis.
A tool for greater awareness
If there’s one benefit I’d highlight above everything else, it’s the first one: breath timers are simply easy to follow.
In fact, stop what you’re doing and try it right now. Find a quite place, fire up YouTube, then close your eyes and follow along.
As you adjust to the rhythm, you’ll find an effortless calm settle in. If it feels good, put the video on repeat and continue breathing. Or if you’ve achieved a special level of focus, forget the video and transition into mindfulness.
It all boils down to this: with breath timers, there’s no voice that interrupts your peace, no visual to train your eyes on. Just a sound and the awareness of your breath.
Use them and find peace.