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When afraid, anxious or angry, people tend to breathe shallowly or even hold their breath. Box breathing, also known as four-square breathing or square-box breathing, is a technique that can help calm your thoughts and release pent-up tension. Proper breathing also boosts lung function and overall health, but best of all, it's a simple technique that's easy to learn and one you can do anywhere.
Box breathing can teach you how to handle even the most stressful of situations by focusing on deep breathing. Box breathing is one technique used to help combat travel anxiety, whether it's fear of flying or driving in heavy traffic, and can also help students fight test-tasking anxiety. Deep-breathing exercises like those used in box breathing are a way to manage anger and are helpful for children with anger issues, helping teach them social responsibility. Psychologists teach box breathing with meditation to cultivate awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations within and around you, and it can be a useful tool to fight insomnia.
Box breathing combines deep breathing with simple counting. First, inhale your breath slowly for a count of four. Then, hold the breath for an equal count of four. Release the breath all the way out through pursed lips, on a count of four. Finally, wait four seconds before saying or doing anything. Repeat the cycle a few more times or as long as you need to help you relax. Always breathe from the lower belly instead of from the upper chest. It may help you to place one or both of your hands on your abdomen or sides to feel the lower part of your abdomen rise as you breathe in.
How It Works
When your body is stressed, it creates the "fight or flight" response, causing your heart and breath rates to rise and your blood vessels to narrow, restricting blood flow. It's thought that breathing and meditation affect your parasympathetic nervous system, slowing your heart and breathing and improving blood flow and digestion. Breathing and meditation also affect the brain and help improve your mood, your ability to pay attention and how you perform everyday tasks.
When you're first learning box breathing, practice in a quiet setting in loose clothing so you can concentrate on the technique. Make sure you're in a comfortable position, whether it's sitting or lying down. Scan your body for any signs of tension and keep your head, neck and shoulders relaxed as you breathe in and out. It may help to add positive, affirming thoughts, to focus your attention on an object or an image in your mind, or to repeat a mantra like the traditional "ohm" of Eastern traditions. The more you practice, the easier it will be to use the technique in stressful settings.