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Changing how you inhale and exhale could help reduce coronavirus anxiety

By October 1, 2020 No Comments

By Dr. Alexandra Lambert

Fear, worry, and anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic debilitate your mental and physical health. Amid this growing mental health crisis, some medical doctors are now prescribing a deep breathing technique for patients and physicians alike, nicknamed “box breathing.”

Intentional deep breathing exercises are known to reduce feelings of stress. Experts interviewed by ABC News identify box breathing as a type of breath-hold specifically used to overcome the type of anxiety people are experiencing during these distressing times.

Initially honed by elite fighters as a wartime stress-fighting tactic, this breathing technique is now taking hold among health care workers battling the coronavirus pandemic.

Box breathing describes the pattern of inhaling slowly and deeply through your nose to the count of four. You inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds and then repeat in four seconds — making a square pattern. Practiced regularly, it has been shown to calm the body by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system — our “rest and digest” responses — which produces feelings of relaxation.

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“If you go around that box for a few minutes, you can really get yourself into a much more focused and centered state,” said Dr. John Sharp, a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School. “We know that when people are stressed, this can work — and like anything, the more you practice it, the more it can work.”

Well-known to the military, box breathing is used in training by Navy SEAL teams to develop emotional discipline. Mark Divine, a former Navy SEAL commander and the New York Times best-selling author of “Unbeatable Mind,” says he has been teaching this method of breathing to Navy SEAL trainees since 2007.

“The best, most effective warriors practice some form of controlled breathing, especially during combat,” said Divine, who explained that box breathing clarifies the mind, which is critical to making good decisions under pressure.

“Not only do you feel calm, but really the quantity of thoughts you have will be lessened,” he said.

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