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August 22, 2022

Lower Your Stress and Lead Better with “Box Breathing”

Imagine you’re about to give a big presentation and anxiety sets in. You know the sensation; tingly palms, speedy heartbeat, and a tad bit sweaty.  So how do you relax in just a few moments? This is where box breathing comes in. 

It’s a simple and fast way to connect your mind and body.  Box breathing is thought to decrease stress while increasing energy and mental focus.

What is box breathing?

Box breathing, AKA four-square breathing, is a simple exercise. It’s a process of rhythmic inhaling and exhaling that creates a feeling of calm. This technique leads to a feeling of ease, confidence, and elation, similar to the benefits of meditation. 

You may have heard of, “resetting your breath.” Box breathing is similar.

Meditation and breathing exercises have long been an area of academic interest.  Research shows that deep breathing can lower blood pressure, reduce hypertension, and manage stress. 

It’s a technique that’s even used by soldiers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and in other high-stress jobs. 

What are its origins?

Navy SEAL author Mark Divine learned to control his breathing during his SEAL training, and conceptualized box breathing in 1987. He then taught these skills to combat military personnel. 

How does it help calm nerves?

As the body becomes stressed, the heart beats faster as blood sugar levels rise. Box breathing combats this by instructing the body to relax. When you breathe at a rhythmic pace, you communicate to your organs to slow down. Ultimately, this exercise can lower stress hormones. 

There may be long-term health benefits from box breathing. We know that a consistent state of stress can exacerbate long-term health problems. There have been cases where self-induced relaxation reduced the consequences of a heart attack.

The great thing is that box breathing’s four steps can be done anytime or anywhere, so it only takes minutes to relax and focus. 

"Mindfulness gives you time. Time gives you choices. Choices, skillfully made, lead to freedom."
Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, Buddhist monk

How can it benefit business leaders?

Stress relief, anxiety management, better sleep, and focus are some of box breathing’s benefits. 

Studies have found that productivity increases with stress reduction, so helping employees remain calm is crucial to a healthy and efficient workplace. The possibilities for better collaboration, creativity, and innovation improve when you set up an atmosphere that facilitates and encourages well-being.

As the pandemic sparked burnout and a wave of resignations, it’s a crucial reminder to care for ourselves and our employees. Happy and relaxed staff fosters retention and productivity.

So the pressure is on employers to attract long-term talent with the right benefits and workplace conditions. Consider a break room – physical or virtual –  where box breathing is supported and encouraged.

How do you do it?

The great thing about box breathing is you can make it your own – sit in a chair, lay on a sofa, or even stand. Just make sure your eyes are closed. 

  • Inhale slowly and count to four. Notice how the air feels in your lungs.
  • Hold your breath for the next four seconds.
  • Gradually exhale out your mouth for four seconds.
  • Repeat until you feel calm.


Even the length of time can be adjusted to your own preferences.  Some people prefer a three-second count for each step while others use longer counts. It’s crucial to feel comfortable while you perform each step. 

It’s also helpful to pay attention to how your chest and stomach move during box breathing. This motion allows you to identify whether you are engaging in shallow or deep breathing. Shallow breathing is when your chest rises but your stomach doesn’t. Deep breathing is when both your chest and stomach rise.

Finally, it can be helpful to visualize each side of the box as you breathe. 

Some apps for Android and iOS that assist you in deep breathing techniques include:

  • Box Breathing App – helps you make box breathing part of your daily routine.
  • Breathe 2 Relax – developed by the National Institute for Telehealth (within the Department of Defense) for timed breathing exercises.
  • Universal Breathing – helps you with visual exercises.

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