Stress and anxiety are all too common in today’s world. With the fast-paced society that we live in, there is constant pressure to meet deadlines, manage responsibilities, and juggle multiple commitments, and it can all take a toll on our mental and emotional well-being. Fortunately, there are a few quick and effective ways to find your calm amidst the chaos, and one of the best methods is a technique called box breathing.
What is Box Breathing?
While actions like spending time outside, exercising, and daily meditation practices are all great and effective ways to help you calm your mind and relieve stress, these actions aren’t always helpful in the heat of the moment. In the fast world that we live in, we often need equally fast ways to find and reclaim our calm so we can approach the situation in front of us with a clear head. This is where a technique like box breathing comes in.
Used by professionals of all kinds, including athletes, police officers, nurses, and Navy SEALs, box breathing is a simple and effective exercise for managing stress that helps you bring your attention to your breath in a rhythmic, calming way.
It is known as box breathing because you basically ‘divide’ your breathing into 4 easy steps, like touching four sides of a box. The beauty of box breathing is that once you’ve got it down, you can do it just about anywhere—your desk, in the car, on a walk, in the kitchen, you name it.
There are many benefits that come with practicing box breathing, including:
- It helps manage blood pressure.
- It provides an almost immediate feeling of calm.
- It helps lower your heart rate through the slow holding of your breath.
- It helps reduce feelings of stress and decrease your body’s production of cortisol.
- It helps you regulate your breathing patterns and avoid hyperventilating.
- It helps improve sleep.
- It can increase your pain tolerance.
How to Perform Box Breathing
Just like any other relaxation technique, box breathing takes time and practice to master. If you haven’t regularly practiced slow, deep breathing techniques before, it’s important to take steps to set yourself up for success in the beginning. Before you begin, sit upright in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, or lay on your back with your hands on your chest or stomach. If possible, do this in a calm, quiet environment so you are able to focus solely on your breathing while you are getting the hang of it. Then, when you’re ready, go through these steps.
- Take in a deep breath through the nose, slowly counting to 4.
- Hold your breath for 4 slow counts.
- Slowly breathe out through the mouth, also counting to 4.
- Pause and count to 4 while holding your breath
- Repeat the above process three to four times or for as long as you need to.
As you get more comfortable with this slower style of breathing, you can start to do it at various times throughout your day, in different locations, positions, and environments. You can also change things up by replacing counting with a mantra that is roughly the same length. For example, mantras with four syllables like “I’m here right now” or “I feel so calm” often work well.
You can also add variation by incorporating visualization. Some of the most common visualizations that go with this breathing technique involve visualizing some sort of box. Try seeing an image of a box in your mind’s eye and imagine a different edge lighting up as you complete each part of your breath. Alternatively, you can also visualize the edges of the box being drawn or traced in your mind while you slowly draw in your breath, hold it, exhale, and hold it again.
Including Box Breathing in Your Daily Routine
Throughout your day, you may encounter many situations that cause you to feel a little stressed or overwhelmed and those are often the ideal times to turn to box breathing. When you are stuck in traffic on your way to work, on your way to an important meeting, or in the middle of a tough conversation with a friend or spouse are all great examples of times when box breathing can help you quickly find your calm.
However, the heat of the moment isn’t the only time you use box breathing. In fact, it’s often best to incorporate it into the self-care practices you already include in your daily routine, as this simple breathing technique can help enhance the stress management activities you are already partaking in. Here are a few ways you can make box breathing a daily habit.
1) Add it to Your Morning Routine
Everyone has a different way of starting their day, but whether you prefer to spend a few minutes meditating, journaling, exercising, reading, or something else, you can add box breathing to your existing routine. You only need to set aside a few minutes for this simple breathing exercise, so it will provide its many calming benefits without cutting into your current schedule.
2) Use Technology
If you’re a box-breathing beginner, it can be helpful to have visual or audio cues to help you get the hang of it. This is where technology can be helpful. There are a variety of apps, videos, and smart devices out there that are designed to help you time your breathing and track your progress.
3) Set an Alarm
If you feel like you struggle most with remembering to practice box breathing, then setting an alarm on your phone or smartwatch can help. You can set this reminder to go off at a certain time each day, such as 10 minutes before you usually go to bed, or you can change it up depending on what you have going on. A great example of this is to set an alarm for 10 minutes before an important meeting to remind you to spend a little time breathing to help you calm your nerves.
4) Keep Practicing
As we mentioned earlier, even though this is a simple breathing technique, it can be a little difficult when you are just starting out. It can take some time to get the timing down, and if you aren’t used to breathing so slowly or deeply, it’s not uncommon to feel a little dizzy or lightheaded afterward. The only way to overcome these obstacles is to keep practicing. The more often you can take a few seconds to go through a round or two of box breathing, the sooner you will become a master.
Find Your Calm Through Your Breath
It’s no secret that life can feel stressful, chaotic, and overwhelming at times. The key to living a happy, healthy life isn’t trying to avoid these situations but rather finding ways to help ourselves quickly find and reclaim our calm so we can navigate them with a clear mind. With techniques like box breathing, you can find your way back to a calm, collected state in just a few seconds, which will help you find your way to better sleep, a healthier body, and a happier mind in the long run.
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