Box breathing is a great technique to have up your sleeve for those moments when life feels a smidge overwhelming…
I was talking with a good friend a while back about her predisposition to sensory overload and how it affects her. In terms of chronic illness, this tendency to hypersensitivity is especially linked to Fibromyalgia and HPA Axis dysregulation (and, I’d be very surprised if Pyrrole Disorder wasn’t, too). Hardly a shock that it pops up so often in the people I work with, then.
If you’re wondering, this sensation is when your body reacts strongly to kinds of environmental input – things like noise, bright lights, large crowds, strong smells, a messy or chaotic environment, or simply when there are multiple things vying for your attention. Everyday life, really!
“You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.” – Timber Hawkeye
I came across an article in Science Daily that suggested that a whopping 20% of the population is genetically pre-disposed to this high level of empathy. These peeps are considered HSPs (or Highly Sensitive Persons). When triggered, they can feel panicky, confused, and overwhelmed.
While I’m not sure that I’d classify myself as an HSP, I definitely lean in this direction. I find breathwork to be one of the most useful tools to have in my health repertoire. It’s free, it’s portable and it works very quickly and effectively when I need to calm myself down.
Legs up the wall is another favourite of mine, but it’s not always practical to lie down and have at it, especially in public places! The good thing about breathwork is that it’s highly portable (and you can do it in public without looking like a complete muppet). I’ve written about Crocodile Breathing and 4-7-8-Breathing, but box breathing is a great one to add to your breathwork arsenal, too.
I often use this breathing technique in my morning ritual while walking with Bella.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there is evidence to suggest that intentional deep breathing can actually calm and regulate the autonomic nervous system. Breathwork can help to lower blood pressure and provide an almost-immediate sense of calm, and it can also improve your mood. But the benefits of this intentional deep breathing can extend beyond in-the-moment stress relief. It’s an exceptional treatment for conditions like generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. It can also help treat insomnia by allowing you to calm your nervous system at night before bed.
Not bad for a technique that is free and available to every one of us!
What is box breathing?
Box Breathing incorporates a cycle of briefly holding your breath following inhaling and exhaling. If you are one of the afore-mentioned HSPs, you may find this breathing technique useful during times of sensory overload. Or, anytime it crosses your mind.
Clear the air out of your lungs. Hold for a count of four.
Inhale (through the nose is best) to a count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of four.
Exhale (again through the nose) to a count of four.
Repeat for as many reps as you want.
The thing I most love about this exercise is that it’s something you can easily do no matter where you are. Give it a go while you’re standing waiting for your kettle to boil, or on the bus or train to work, or before an important meeting, or walking the dog. No one will even notice that you are performing a stress management exercise.
It has an easy symmetry which makes it simple to remember and perform…
And, for EXTRA benefits: get outside for your box breathing time – we know that getting a daily hit of green space or blue space is scientifically proven to boost the way your brain reacts to its environment leaving you feeling happy, relaxed and reenergized. Why not double down?