Anxiety First Aid – Box Breathing

Anxiety wasn’t what I intended to write about this week but the subject kept coming up.

First I read an online news article, “Google reveals the secret truth about Australians.” This story said that although Aussies pride themselves on being laid back we apparently make more Google searches about getting help with anxiety than any other country in the world. That really surprised me.

Then, I was listening to an episode of the ABC Ladies We Need to Talk podcast and it just happened to be about anxiety too. This show confirmed that anxiety is the most common mental health issue in Australia. Up to one in three women will experience anxiety, for men it’s one in five.  So twenty to thirty percent of us are experiencing anxiety at any time, and it’s on the rise. This podcast gave  me a bit more insight about the issue and the different ways it can manifest for different people.

Image Aaron Blanco-Tejedor

The third time was via another podcast. It may have been on the same day as the last one but by now I was really starting to see a theme. This last podcast was Thriveology with Dr Lee Baucom, this talks about different ways you can thrive no matter what life throws at you. By the way, he also has a great book called The Thrive Principles about this topic which I highly recommend.

In this last podcast, a technique was shared which can help the body calm down and reduce the symptoms of anxiety in just a few minutes. So in effect, first aid for anxiety. This technique is called Box Breathing.

I had heard of it before. A counsellor taught it to me a few years ago. It is a technique used by the US Navy SEALs and other military personnel. It is taught to them to help them regulate stress during tense missions. I’ve actually used it and can attest that it does work.

Box Breathing Technique
Box Breathing Technique

To start imagine a square box.

Starting at the bottom corner of the box breath in for a count. In the military, they use a count of four, but to begin with try a count of 2 or 3, especially if you’re stressed as your breathing can be a bit faster than normal.

So breath in for a count of 2 or 3 as you mind travels up one side of the box.

Then gently hold the breath in for the same count. This should be an inaction rather than an action. If this is hard try reducing the count until your breathing calms down a bit.

While holding the breath in for a count imagine this is the top of the box.

Then exhale for the same count as your mind travels down the other side of the box.

Then again, gently hold without breathing in for the same count, this is the bottom of the box and you’re back to the starting point.

Repeat this process and you’ll find that your body will feel less anxious within a few minutes. If you get out of the pattern, just keep going back to it, even if you have to reduce the count to just a count of one. As you calm down, your breathing will slow you’ll be able to increase the count.

This technique really works and with practice you can use box breathing to get through those activities that trigger anxiety, hopefully lessening the trigger itself over time.

Mark Divine is a former Navy SEAL commander who has been using the technique since 1987. In the video below, he describes how to use box breathing.

Mark has written a great book that I have on my bookshelf called The Way of The SEAL.

Here’s a video of Mark Divine explaining the box breathing technique.

Enter your email address below to get a free Box Breathing PDF.

This handy one-page reminder can be saved, printed or shared easily so you have the reminder close at hand when you need it.

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Megan Ruffino
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