We’ve all had those moments where we feel our hearts racing, breath shortening, body clenching — or for some of us all these things at once. In these moments, we’re big fans of taking a five-minute meditation break, showing up for that yoga class, letting yourself have a good cry, or even screaming into the nearest pillow.
But sometimes you need a simple, quick and invisible way to reset or calm down when you’re in the midst of a stressful encounter you can’t step away from. Luckily, there are quite a few ways to alleviate those feelings of stress, anxiety or general unease immediately — and breathing techniques are one of the easiest ways to achieve that goal.
What is Box Breathing?
That's where box breathing — or four square breathing — comes in. A popular technique to reduce stress, improve concentration, and get better sleep — it’s so effective that Navy Seals use it in particularly high-stress situations. That’s because slow, intentional breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, allowing your body to get out of fight-flight-freeze mode and your mind to relax. The best part is that breathing can be practiced anytime, anywhere (without anyone even knowing), which, let’s face it, is especially important as we approach the holidays. Does your sister have you continuously clenching your jaw? Take a four square breather. Secretly hoping your mother-in-law slips and falls face-first into her sickeningly-sweet sweet potato casserole? Just smile and box breathe. Triggered by an ignorant uncle who gets his news from Breitbart? Tune him out while focusing on this highly effective breathing technique.
How Does Box Breathing Reduce Stress and Anxiety?
Deep breathing like box breathing sends a signal to our parasympathetic nervous system (our rest & relax state) to calm our bodies. Not only does deep breathing help with calming your nerves immediately, but it also has long-term positive impacts including a positive association with health and longevity. Studies have shown it helps us regulate our autonomic nervous system, reduce blood pressure and minimize hypertension, even more effectively than more complicated techniques.
So before you go to bed tonight (remember, box breathing also helps treat insomnia!), test it out and release the stress you’ve built up throughout the day. Who knows – this may be the secret to the stress-free holiday season you’ve been waiting your whole adult life for.
How to do Box Breathing
Take a deep breath for four seconds
Hold your inhalation for four seconds
Exhale for four seconds
Hold your lungs empty for four seconds