MINDful Minute: Beat Your Stress With Your Breath

Learn a breathing technique the Navy SEALS master early on in training

By Lindsey Paoli

Meet therapist, coach and founder of Fundamental Health Lindsey Paoli, MFT-Intern.

Oh no, you just set up a meeting to ask your boss for a raise, and your anxiety and panic are kicking in full force. Your breathing becomes shallow, your heart rate increases, you might feel clammy or sweaty, you might experience tunnel vision as your pupils try to hone in on a threat—or they might dilate to take in peripheral information. 

This visual fluctuation could cause dizziness, and you might suffer from brain fog as your brain reprioritizes which information it needs immediately.  This could lead to a delay in processing, which feels like a struggle to find the appropriate words or being tongue tied. Your body might tense its muscles in areas like your chest and arms, and you could experience hot or cold flashes. 

So many responses in one tiny minute makes you feel like you’re completely losing control. But what if I were to tell you that you have the ability to take back control of your body’s automatic responses very quickly and easily by doing something you do without even thinking every single day? Breathing. 

One of my quickest and easiest tools to combat anxiety and stress is taking control of your breath.  The shallow breath originating in the chest that we default to in moments of distress actually stimulates Sympathetic Nervous System functions preparing our body for fight or flight. 

A fast and easy antidote to this is to re-regulate the breath, stimulating instead the Parasympathetic Nervous System, aka the “Rest and Digest” system. The way that you breathe can work as the switch to turn your Autonomic Nervous System from Sympathetic to Parasympathetic in a matter of minutes. 

How To Practice Box Breathing

First, you’ll want to focus your breath to ensure that it’s originating more deeply, making your belly rise instead of your chest.

Then, to slow down that breath even more, I recommend a tool called Box Breathing.  It’s one of my favorite skills to teach because it is easy to remember and can be done anywhere without drawing attention to yourself. 

Simply inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four, exhale for a count of four and hold again for a count of four. Try for yourself and you’ll notice why it is called box breathing, as the movement creates a small square. 

I recommend that you do this at least four times, working to slow your counts as much as possible with each round.

Holding the breath might feel difficult at first, but it is very important to redistributing the ideal amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide into your blood stream, telling your body that you don’t in fact need to prepare for battle. In fact, this is such an effective tool that even Navy SEALS are taught to master box breathing early on in their training. 

So take a pause, get in those four rounds of box breathing, and walk into that office with calmness that only the most confident possess. That raise is all yours!

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