Your days of battling stress and anxiety when faced with a challenge are over. Those moments you got sweaty hands in front of a date, a client, or while dodging a different bullet (figuratively and literally) are past too. Even the dizziness you might experience in such situations, the brain fog and your automatic fight-or-flight response will be history too. The technique I’m about to introduce you to, will change how you manage any stressful situation.
Why does your response to stress matter? Because stress is one of the main factors responsible for shorter cell lifespan, underperformance and, in severe cases, chronic disease states and earlier mortality.
Thinking of professions that put a person under a lot of stress, being a soldier would come up high on the list. Imagine burning through your adrenal storage every single day 9-5, possibly even 24/7. After all, soldiers have to dodge bullets, be responsible for everyone else on their team and be alert at all times. Such effort does not come naturally to anyone; our natural state is to be afraid and on our toes.
The Navy SEALS know that this natural response to stress will be fatal in any conflict situation. It will manifest in deteriorating morale, the failure to achieve mission objective or even in a loss of life.
This constant exposure to stress is similar to what you and I, as high achieving professionals, experience at work every day. You see it doesn’t matter where you are exposed to social pressure and stress – your body will react and drain you to bits. As a result, you will then display ‘drunk’ reactions: poor social calibration, self-brand representation, and an inability to align your objectives with other people’s perspectives.
The good news is that there are ways to ‘sober up’ instantly. The fact is that regular stressors don’t have to ruin your performance in-field. Just look at high ranking CEOs who are in a way grounded – they face any challenge without overreacting and panicking. Imagine achieving the same clarity – that is where the Navy SEAL stress toolkit comes into play.
How To Relieve Stress Instantly
We don’t have to enlist, enroll into a SEALFIT camp, or face the BUD/S training, in order to expose ourselves to critical situations that unlock the primal self intuition. Instead we can recycle the same tools that are used by SEALS in the most extreme situations.
The Secret To Box Breathing
99.9% of people simply under-breathe. Shallow chest breathing is linked with the fight-or-flight response forcing you to dwell in a stressed state every day. This already puts you at a massive disadvantage when you face other stressors and need to manage them.
Here is where breathing using full lung capacity comes in handy. Given that we are all too used to shallow breathing, the appropriate tool has to be used to break this pattern. That tool is the box breathing technique. Box breathing is a type of active breathing meditation (form of the well-known Pranayama) and it’s the best stress reliever for those who cannot find time to meditate.
I first encountered this method in the book Unbeatable Mind, written by SEALFIT commander Mark Divine. True to its title, the book is about forging mental toughness and showing how to overcome shortcomings in combat or daily life. The most important tool to overcome stress instantly as introduced by Divine is box breathing. This is a powerful technique to hardwire the brain for clarity and calmness. The best thing is, it can be done anywhere and its effect is instant. You can even do it during the meeting in front of a client, right before you face an attractive date or in any other situation that makes us all sweat buckets.
What box breathing helps you do is to instantly feel at ease and calm your inner self by breathing through the belly (using the diaphragm) at a steady pace. You take in almost double the amount of air (and therefore oxygen) which helps you overcome the stressed, fight-or-flight state of mind.
Here’s how you can perform box breathing:
Box breathing is based on 4 consecutive and identically timed states which form a box:
These should be timed to last the same amount of time. An example of this could be: 4 seconds deep inhale, followed by 4 seconds of hold, then followed by slow, full 4 second exhale and finally 4 second hold. Repeat as long as necessary.
The time variable can be adjusted depending on your current state. The emphasis here is on deep breaths, exhaling fully and allowing your body to fall into a rhythm.
Don’t forget to find a few minutes to perform this before or after facing a stressful situation. Simply find a relatively quiet place (such as a separate room in your office, a quieter section of the coffee shop, a bench in a park – you get the drill) and perform the above exercise while seated or standing.
Watch Mark Divine himself performing the box breathing technique in the following video:
Note: You can also download an app from boxbreathing.org (no affiliation), which guides you through the breathing cycles.
If the above seems too complicated, try the deep breathing method I use every single day:
At first box breathing might seem complicated to you. It did to me too. So before introducing the 4-stage method, I first mastered passive-active breathing.
Skip the counting and focus fully on taking in slow and deep breaths by filling your belly from the bottom up. Breathing down to the bottom of your belly will feel unnatural at first, however it will calm you and reduce stress instantly. For an extra kick, you can visualise yourself as being still and extremely calm.
This might sound like an obvious thing to do, but the fact is – nobody does it. Have you noticed how many people act reckless unable to focus?
If I have a meeting that’s about to commence or I know an uncomfortable situation is coming up, this breathing exercise is my go-to protocol. I remind myself to take in deep breaths and to exhale slowly.
Note that the more you consciously force your body to breathe fully, the more this breathing pattern will become part of your nature. Via habit formation you will automatically start box breathing and become mindful so that you can stay calm and perform your best in any situation. Just like a Navy SEAL.
Deep breathing is also known to spark a fire in the belly. Psychologist and author Sam Keen discusses in his book Fire in The Belly: On Being A Man how deep breathing can make you a better man, partner and generally a better performer in any dynamic situation where grounded mind wins big-time. On that note, this book is a highly recommended read, for both sexes, to better understand the underlying forces to social and sexual polarities, and how to make the best of them.
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 Psychological and metabolic stress: a recipe for accelerated cellular aging? – 2009, University of California, Department of Psychiatry, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA