Posted by Nicole on March 11, 2019

Feeling anxious? Pay attention to how you are breathing. Chances are good you will notice that your breaths have become fast and shallow.

This is one of the reasons we often feel dizzy or light-headed when we panic. We feel like we can’t get enough air, but we are actually hyperventilating.

When we breathe like this, our bodies get the message, “We are in danger.”

That makes us feel more tense and anxious, and reinforces the behaviour.

The result is a vicious feedback loop.

But thankfully, our breathing is something we can control. And with one simple breathing exercise, you can disrupt that loop and return to a more relaxed state.

Learn to Breathe Like a Navy SEAL

Ever wonder how Navy SEALs are able to keep their cool under pressure?

It turns out they use a special technique referred to as “box breathing.”

The entire technique involves just four easy steps. Here is how to do it:

1. Empty your lungs completely of all air. Then count to four.

2. Inhale slowly through your nose, counting to four as you do so.

3. Hold your breath for another count of four.

4. Breathe out slowly through your nose for a count of four.

That’s it. It is that simple!

A few quick notes about this technique:

  • Breathing like this will feel unnatural at first, and may even make you feel more anxious. Try and ignore this. Your body will still get a “calm” message from breathing like this, and eventually it will feel more normal.
  • Keep your mouth closed while practicing this technique, breathing only through your nose. Be sure you breathe from your diaphragm, not your chest.
  • Four seconds too long or too short? Even though this timing has been optimized, there are other approaches you can take which are equally valid. The most important thing is just to make sure that you are not gulping in air for most of the time. You want the emphasis to be on the other three steps of the cycle. Experiment and see what works for you.
  • Try and do this exercise for a minimum of five minutes. Shorter sessions may be less effective, especially without practice.
  • Make sure you do practice. Don’t just try this technique when you are anxious. Try doing it when you are calm too. If possible, build it into your regular daily routine.
  • If you want, you can meditate on your breath (or the counting), but this is not a requirement.

The best thing about box breathing is that you can do it anywhere, anytime. Whether you are stuck in traffic, lying in bed, watching TV, or sitting in a meeting, you can breathe slowly in and out.

Once your body gets that “reset,” your mind should feel more relaxed too.

Still looking for more ideas for managing stress and anxiety? Think about taking a supplement to support adrenal health, and check out the other posts in our archive for more tips and tricks.