square breathing box breathing

Square Breathing for Calmness and Clarity

Natalie Buchwald, LMHCSelf Care

By Natalie Buchwald, LMHC | Last Updated: June 15th, 2023
Reviewed by Steven Buchwald

Square breathing, or box breathing, is a simple technique that reduces anxiety and promotes calmness. It’s versatile and can be practiced anywhere, even in high-stress environments.

This technique is very powerful to take you out of fight-or-flight mode and reset your nervous system.

In fact, the technique is so effective that the United States Navy recommends it to Navy Seals in high-stress environments.

Square breathing is easy to learn and simple to implement. You can do it whether you’re sitting or standing, anxious or calm, alone or in a room full of people.

The Science Behind Square Breathing

Stress activates our sympathetic nervous system, causing shallow, short breaths that heighten anxiety and stress hormones. This triggers our fight-or-flight response, making it difficult to stay calm and make rational decisions. However, controlling our breathing patterns can alleviate stress.

Square breathing helps regain control over breathing during challenging situations. This control activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which assists in relaxation after stress or danger. Focusing on breathing also diverts attention from stressors, promoting centeredness and grounding.

By taking longer, intentional breaths, we signal our nervous system that the stressful experience is ending, leading to a sense of calm and balance.

The result is a sense of calm and equanimity.

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How To Practice Square Breathing

To practice square breathing, follow these steps:

  1. Exhale completely.
  2. Inhale through your nose for four counts, visualizing air filling your lungs and stomach.
  3. Hold your breath and count to four.
  4. Exhale slowly and count to four.
  5. Hold your breath again and count to four.
  6. Repeat until you feel calm and centered.

Square (or box) breathing gets its name because each breath has four sides: in, hold, out, hold.

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Start with 4 second intervals and play around with longer interval if you wish.

If you have more time, you can than jump into to a relaxation or meditation session, where you breathe naturally and simply observe your thoughts non-judgmental.

Combining a square breathing sequence with a meditation session might help you get to a deeply meditative and restorative state faster and gain insights.

Interested In Learning More Mindfulness Techniques?

Interested in learning more about this and other mindfulness techniques? Our therapists at Manhattan Mental Health Counseling are compassionate, resourceful, and committed to implementing a therapeutic experience that is tailored to your needs and preferences. Contact us today by calling (212) 960-8626 or by using our online contact form.