In a recent blog entry, we shared a simple countdown technique that can help you deal with the sudden onset of feelings of anxiety. This sort of strategy can be an effective way to deal with the symptoms of a mental health disorder that might be tangled up with your struggles with drugs or alcohol. After you have done the hard work of getting sober, you don’t want a mental health disorder to upend your recovery journey.

With that in mind, we want to introduce another way of tackling feelings of anxiety or panic when they arise. It is called box breathing, and it can help restore calm when you feel anxiety welling up.

Put Anxiety in a Box with This Breathing Exercise

The exercise known as box breathing is pretty straightforward and simple. When you notice anxious feelings bubbling up, here’s how you can respond:

  • Take a breath in while counting slowly and evenly to four
  • Hold your breath for another count of four
  • Breathe out for a count of four
  • Hold your breath again for a count of four
  • Complete this slow and steady cycle a total of four times

At the end of the cycle, you will likely feel quite a bit calmer—but if you don’t, you can repeat the exercise again. 

Simple, right? So simple, in fact, that you might be feeling skeptical about whether it actually works.

Fair enough. Let’s take a look at how a breathing exercise can lead to increased feelings of calm.

Box Breath Is Not Magic—It’s Science

There is a specific part of the human nervous system—known as the autonomic nervous system—that is in charge of a whole bunch of your body’s functions that you never have to think about. Your autonomic nervous system makes sure, for example, that your heart beats and that you continue to breathe. That’s a big deal, of course, because having to consciously think about things like our heartbeat and our breathing would make it mighty difficult to do much else.

Box breathing allows for the buildup of carbon dioxide (CO2) in your blood during the parts of the exercise when you are holding your breath. That build up of CO2 activates something called your vagus nerve (which handles various organ functions) as well as your parasympathetic system (which triggers feelings of calm after a stressful experience).

All of this means that when you do the box breathing exercise, you are purposely triggering the (usually automatic) responses in your body that lead to a greater sense of well-being and calm.

Box Breathing Should Not Replace Mental Health Care

We want to be clear: Box breathing is a useful tool when anxiety arises. But it is not a replacement for mental health treatment. As we noted at the beginning of this entry, co-occurring mental health disorders can be entangled with your substance use disorder—and can also undermine your recovery and push you toward a relapse.

That is why it can be so important to pursue ongoing mental health treatment in recovery. Through therapy, medication, or both, you can shore up your mental health, which in turn supports your ongoing sobriety.

Unbox a New Commitment to Sobriety at The Aviary

Struggling with drugs or alcohol can really wear you down over time. Your physical health suffers. Your mental health suffers. And the people around you likely suffer, too.

If that sounds like the situation you have found yourself in, it is time to get treatment for a substance use disorder. At The Aviary Recovery Center, near St. Louis, MO, we offer personalized treatment plans designed for the specific needs of the individuals we serve because we know no two situations are identical. 

We will see you through medically supervised detoxification so that you can regain your sobriety. We will follow that up with an approach to rehabilitation that includes both individual and group therapy as well as treatment for any co-occurring mental health disorders that may be in play. And we provide a continuum of care, ensuring you have access to resources and support in the early days of your recovery journey.

You might be feeling as though your substance use disorder has put you in a box that you can’t escape from. Fortunately, however, that is not true. At The Aviary Recovery Center, we will help you escape the box and return to your daily life sober, happier, and more confident.