We’ve all heard the common suggestions to help lower stress and anxiety. It’s usually someone telling you to “just focus on breathing” or “try to ignore it.” Except, people who are persistently anxious know this never works.
Focusing on basic breathing usually makes it worse. When you become anxious, you’ll likely breathe faster than usual. So when someone tells you to focus on your breathing, they’re forcing you to draw attention to your irregular breathing pattern.
Trying to ignore it is even worse. You’ll think about the idea of ignoring your anxious feelings but then you’ll remind yourself you’re still thinking about it!
Enter box breathing, or square breathing. This breathing exercise gives you an easy template to follow that helps heighten performance and concentration while also being a powerful stress reliever. Everyone from Navy SEALs to police officers and nurses
You might be thinking “Isn’t this the same thing as focusing on your breathing?”. In a way, sure. However, this exercise is helping you control your breathing rather than letting it run wild.
Let’s go through the steps:
Step 1: Sit upright with your feet flat on the ground. Slowly exhale to empty all of the air in your lungs.
Step 2: Inhale over the span of 4 seconds. Imagine each section of your lungs filling with air as each second passes. When you reach 4 seconds, the air should feel like it’s reached your abdomen.
Step 3: Hold the air in your lungs for another slow 4 seconds.
Step 4: Slowly release the air from your lungs over the span of another 4 seconds.
Step 5: Repeat.
The Mayo Clinic has found sufficient evidence that this type of deliberate breathing helps calm the Autonomous Nervous System (ANS). The goal is to allow more CO2 to enter your bloodstream to help relax your muscles.
Even if you’re not frequently anxious, this method also helps treat insomnia by calming your nervous system before bed.
So give this simple and effective exercise a shot next time you feel an anxiety attack coming on.