Stress is becoming an epidemic. This is especially true in the workplace, with 44% of employees worldwide feeling stressed in their jobs.
While this is an issue employers are working hard to address, it’s inevitable that you’ll eventually experience work-induced stress, no matter your occupation or role. That’s why it’s essential to get proactiveabout practicing stress-reduction techniques during your workday.
There’s one such tactic that can help ease your stress in five minutes or less—and that’s why it’s used by Navy SEALs to recude anxiety and mitigate stress in some of the most challenging environments on earth.
Box breathing is simple technique that has strong, scientifically-backed impacts on your mind and body.
And luckily, it’s not just for the Navy SEALs to benefit from—you can, too.
In this article, we’ll explain the concept of box breathing, why it’s so impactful, and how you can implement into your workdays.
How to Box Breathe in 4 Steps
The name “box breathing” refers to the four sides of a box, which will be represented in the time you hold your breath through this exercise. It’s also sometimes referred to as 4X4 breathing, square breathing, or equal breathing.
Here’s how to do it.
Get in a comfortable position, either sitting, lying down, or standing. Fully relax your body; you can have your eyes open or closed.
You may also want to seek out a private location for this such as your private office. If you don’t have access to one, options are to book a meeting room here at Launch or use our phone booths or other private areas.
Expel all the air from your chest to begin the breathing practice. Then, inhale slowly through your nose over a four-second period. Count slowly as you breathe in, feeling the air fill your lungs for the full four seconds.
Pause and hold your inhale for another four seconds, feeling the sensation of your lungs filled with air.
After holding your breath, slowly start to exhale out of your nose for a four-second count.
Once done, pause for another four seconds with your lungs empty. This marks the completion of one cycle of box breathing.
Repeat the full cycle of breathing at least five times, or for however long it takes you to feel relaxed and calm.
As you move through this breathing practice, focus specifically on your breath and your body. This is important to get your mind off of whatever is stressing you out at the moment and shift into the present moment.
You can also use your fingers to count to four, or lightly tap your hand on your leg. This creates the physical sensations that you can focus on while breathing so that you’re fully present in the moment.
Does it Really Work? The Science of Breathing
You might ask at this point—what’s so special about breathing this way?
Well, it turns out that the 4-4-4-4 breathing ratio has a neutral energetic effect. As former Navy SEAL Mark Divine explains, it won’t put you in a sleepy or relaxed state or wind you up too much. Instead, you’ll become alert, grounded, and ready to tackle what comes next.
Science backs this up, too.
Breathing techniques fight anxiety and stress with a two-pronged approach: physiologically, by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system and psychologically, but diverting attention to something else.
Your parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for relaxing and reducing your body’s activities, like lowering heart rate, food digestion, or reducing the work of your lungs during times of rest. Slow and controlled breathing is scientifically shown to cover autonomic and central nervous systems, by regulating heart rate and breathing.
All that to say, breathing strategies like box breathing physically calms down your body.
And this has a notable impact on your psychological state, too.
One meta-analysis on the link between breathwork and stress or mental health found that it has a small-medium effect on self-reported stress, anxiety, and depression compared to non-breathwork controls.
On a more cultural and personal level, you can also look to practices such as yoga, tai chi, meditation, or pilates, which all place emphasis on mindful and controlled breathing. Their popularity mixed with and anecdotal evidence suggesting less stress and anxiety all speak to the powerful impacts of controlling your breath.
When to Practice Box Breathing at Work
You can practice box breathing at any time in any place.
Next time you’re faced with a stressful situation like an impending deadline, conflict with a colleague, or even just feeling a moment of overwhelm, take a few moments to yourself to complete a box breathing exercise and see how it calms your mind and body.
Stress in the workplace is a real and present issue for many professionals and workplaces. But by intentionally taking control of your breathing, you can take an instinctive and automatic bodily function and turn it into an effective anxiety-busting technique. This simple practice can be a game-changer for all professionals during high-intensity moments.
If you’re in search of a positive professional workspace that helps you feel your best, contact us today and book a tour of your nearest Launch Workplaces.