Breathing – that ever important, life sustaining action that usually happens unconsciously. You breathe in, you breathe out, repeat repeat repeat.
But then it happens, everything careens out of control and your breath is racing or you find yourself holding it all in. This often happens to me when I am experiencing a panic attack. My breath gets shallower and faster.
To ground myself during a panic attack I use the square breathing technique (also referred to as the box breathing technique). It grounds me by causing me to focus inward on my breath and provides me with a calming counting routine that helps derail me from the panic attack.
Start by just noticing your breathing. Observe the inhalation, observe any pauses, observe the exhalation. Do not judge yourself on how you are breathing, just observe.
Now breathe in for a count of 4. The speed of your count should align with your current speed of breathing. Aim to be at your fullest breath at the 4. Notice how you feel with a full breath.
Pause now, finding a count that works for you. When I first learned this technique I thought that the everything needed the same count. This made me feel worse because I would get upset that I felt like I would explode if I held for the same 4 count that I could inhale for.
After the pause, exhale in a controlled manner also for a count that is comfortable for you. Empty your lungs and observe how you feel.
Again, pause. Do not beat yourself up if it is a fast or short count. Repeat the cycle as required. I find that this naturally slows down my breathing just by taking note of the count. If your breathing is not slowing, consciously increase your counts to slow the cycle down.
Everyone has a slightly different way of performing square breathing. For a look at other perspectives, please see the following resources:
Do you find the square breathing technique helpful? Have you made your own modifications?