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Mental Moment: Box breathing

How this deep breathing exercise can help you relax
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Box breathing is an exceptional addition to your wellness toolkit. JESSIE YANG/THE VARSITY
Box breathing is an exceptional addition to your wellness toolkit. JESSIE YANG/THE VARSITY

As COVID-19 public health restrictions begin to ease in Ontario, more people have begun to return to activities which have not been possible since March 2020. It’s reasonable to struggle with anxiety brought on by travel, social engagement, and a return to the office or the classroom. While the rigors of lockdown have already forced people to develop coping mechanisms for anxiety, adding to one’s list of wellness exercises can never hurt.

A personal favourite of mine is box breathing — a deep breathing exercise which consists of inhaling, pausing, exhaling, and then pausing again in intervals of four seconds. This recentering technique can combat the body’s fight or flight mechanism.

The true effectiveness of this technique is found not only in the immediate stress relief it provides, but in its ability to improve one’s mood and its long-term effects, such as chronic stress and anxiety relief. While mental wellness activities such as yoga are effective, they can sometimes require extra equipment, such as yoga mats, and one may not have the time or space they require at any given moment. On the other hand, box breathing can be done anywhere, anytime — although it is more effective in a quiet place. 

If you’d like to use this technique, try these tips: keeping both feet firmly on the ground, breathe in through your nose and inhale for a slow count of four seconds. Hold your breath for another four seconds, before exhaling slowly for four seconds, and repeat these steps until you feel relaxed. Even if you do not require immediate stress relief on any given day, fully ingraining the mechanisms of this technique into your everyday routine could be beneficial for the moments when you find yourself feeling anxious. 

Box breathing is just one of several variations of deep breathing that you can employ subtly and effectively, and it has proven to be incredibly impactful in my day-to-day life. If it does not work for you, you can always try other variations that may be more suited for your needs.