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Box Breathing for Stress: Techniques, Benefits and Tips

Dr. Joti Samra

February 28, 2020

Resiliency

Box Breathing for Stress

Stress is something we all experience to varying degrees, at various points in our day-to-day lives. When stress becomes unmanageable or our ‘fight or flight’ stress response is triggered, breathing techniques can help calm us, and help us make more rational and conscious decisions. Box breathing can work in high-stress situations by returning breathing to its normal rhythm. So, let’s learn how to use Box breathing for stress.

Why practice breathing exercises?

Practicing simple breathing exercises daily can help to not only manage your overall mood, stress levels and improve your focus – but this practice can help to prepare your body for higher stress situations so that you can preventatively cope in a more effective way. An added bonus is that breathing exercises are easy, can be done almost anywhere and don’t have to take more than five minutes. 

What is box breathing?

Box breathing gets its name because there are four parts – like the 4 sides of a box. One full cycle through the 4 parts takes less than thirty seconds, but it’s recommended to practice for a minimum of three to five minutes. 

Why does box breathing work? And why is it important?

Stress triggers our fight-or-flight response, and when this response is triggered, we tend to shallow breathe.

But why is shallow breathing a problem? Shallow breathing can lead to a whole host of physiological symptoms – including, for example, changes in body temperature; lightheadedness or dizziness; or, feelings of derealization or depersonalization (where distance/perception can be altered). 

These symptoms can mimic anxiety – and so shallow breathing can inadvertently make subjective feelings of anxiety or stress worse.

Box Breathing Technique – Here are the steps:

  1. Slowly exhale: sit or stand upright, and slowly, to a count of four, exhale through your mouth, pushing all of the oxygen out of your lungs. 
  2. Hold for a count of 4.
  3. Slowly inhale: with a controlled and slow place, slowly and deeply inhale through your nose to a count of four.
  4. Hold for a count of 4: for another slow count of four, hold your breath. Paying attention to not clamping your nose or mouth shut or increasing tension in your body can help. 

Then, repeat!

You may at first find the practice challenging: don’t give up! Instead, reduce the count to three seconds and continue to practice. Once you’ve become more experienced with this practice you may be able to increase the count to six seconds or more, but start small.

 

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