What if I told you that there is a five minute antidote for anxiety and stress? For most of us, dealing with anxiety and stress can be difficult, especially in the midst of our busy lives. 

Let’s explore how square breathing can help relieve anxiety and stress, and look at why this simple technique is so effective. 

What Happens When We Stress? 

The body is well designed to handle small doses of stress. We are equipped with a series of reflexes intended to protect us from injury and pain,

However, when stress becomes chronic, it negatively affects many systems in the body. 

When responding to stressful or potentially dangerous situations, the sympathetic nervous system kicks into action, triggering stress hormones that prepare the body to fight or flee. 

This evolutionary response has unfortunately developed a sort of ‘false alarm’, causing our bodies to overreact to situations that are not life-threatening. 

Stress Vs Anxiety: Differences and Similarities

Anxiety and stress are similar, and interrelated in many ways. Even the symptoms of anxiety manifest similarly to those of stress: 

  • Poor sleep.
  • Fatigue and brain fog.
  • Irritability. 
  • Frustration. 

Chronic stress will result in a person experiencing anxiety, but there is still a major distinction between anxiety and stress. 

A stress response in the body is triggered by physical or psychological stimuli that disrupt homeostasis. These stimuli are known as stressors, and this disruption of homeostasis sends the body into its fight-or-flight mode.  

According to the American Psychological Association, the main difference between anxiety and stress is that anxiety is defined by excessive worries that persist, even when a stressor is not present. 

Get to know about: The Science Behind Anxiety Alleviation through Breathing Techniques

A Simple Solution: Square Breathing

Whether it's a once off situation at work that has got you flustered, or those persistent late night worries, the practice of square breathing can be useful in both situations. 

Regardless of the kind of stress that you face, square breathing offers a practical and accessible solution to managing your stress levels. 

It is simple, effective, and scientifically backed by professionals in the medical field such as Dr. Andrew Huberman

Square breathing is so effective that even the Navy Seals use the technique to help soldiers cope with high-stress combat situations. 

Square breathing is also known as box breathing, or the 4-4-4-4 technique, due to the way it is equally structured along four breaths, all set to a four count. 

Here’s how it works: 

  • Breathe in through your nose for four seconds. Focus on using your diaphragm to fill your lungs, feeling your abdomen expand as you do. 
  • Hold that breath for four seconds. 
  • Exhale through pursed lips for four seconds. Try to empty your lungs. 
  • Wait another four seconds before repeating the cycle. 

Dr. Melissa Young says that square breathing’s greatest strength lies in its simplicity. 

You can practice box breathing in almost any situation, but ideally you would want to be comfortably seated or lying down, and maintain good spinal posture throughout. 

Some people feel almost immediately calmer, but it’s recommended that you practice square breathing for at least five minutes at a time to experience its full effect. 

How Does Square Breathing Relieve Stress and Anxiety? 

Deep nasal inhalations have been scientifically found to have a calming effect on the mind and body. The nose is the body’s primary mode of respiration, and breathing in this way is beneficial to us: 

  • Breathing through the nose increases oxygenation and enables full use of the lungs. 
  • The nose warms the air we breathe, which is good for our lungs 
  • Nitric oxide produced in the nose relaxes our muscles and improves vasodilation. 

The main way that square breathing fights stress is through the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, the antithesis of the sympathetic nervous system. 

With help from the vagus nerve, the parasympathetic nervous system does something called downregulating, where your body tells your brain what to do, instead of the other way around. So by inhaling deeply through your nose, and allowing your lungs to fill with air, you can counteract a stress response. 

By practicing square breathing in a stressful situation, you’ll be consciously slowing your breath, resulting in a calmer mind due to parasympathetic contributions to your nervous system. 

Get to know about: Unlock Your Potential: The Positive Effects of Holding Your Breath Explained

Optimizing Your Breath With Oxa

Identifying your stressors and practicing square breathing might be the first step towards living a happier and healthier life, but there’s more. 

Oxa breathing trainer helps you reduce stress, and improve sleep quality, with the help of a biofeedback wearable. Dedicated to both education, and science, Oxa offers a wealth of materials, and exercises to help you access the untapped power of your breath. 

Oxa’s greatest value lies in the live biofeedback tracking that their wearable provides. The wearable enables you to intimately understand what happens to your breathing rate, heart rate, and heart rate variability during breathwork, or exercise.  

FAQs 

Q: What's the difference between stress and anxiety?

Stress is what happens when your body reacts to a perceived threat. Stimuli that trigger your sympathetic nervous system may be physical or psychological, and are known as stressors. Anxiety can be experienced by a person even when there are no stressors present. Anxiety is characterized by excessive worries that are persistent. 

Q: What type of breathing can help with anxiety and stress?

Deep nasal breathing techniques like square breathing or the psychological sigh can help with anxiety and stress. Diaphragmatic breathing that promotes nasal inhalation, and makes full use of the lungs, is effective in situations of stress and anxiety.

Q: Why square breathing can help with anxiety and stress?

Square breathing helps with anxiety and stress by the way that it promotes proper nasal respiration. Square breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system and sends you into a state of calm. 

Q: How often should I practice square breathing?

Square breathing can be practiced whenever you are feeling anxious or stressed to help in that situation. But it doesn’t have to stop there. Practicing square breathing twice a day, for at least five minutes per session, can have a major improvement on your ability to manage stress.

Hakima Tantrika
Published:
July 15, 2024

MA, RYT 500, and ICF-certified coach is a holistic physical and mental health writer and educator. With global recognition, she's enriched over 2 million readers through her blog and shaped 800+ instructors worldwide. Fluent in four languages, Hakima blends extensive knowledge and a rich multicultural insight, making her a distinguished authority in the wellness sphere.

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