(Disclaimer: This is from my own perspective and my own experiences. Everyone is different, so this technique may not be what works best for you, which is totally okay!)
Over the last two years, it seems like the world has declared a war on my mental health. It is something I hadn’t ever struggled with until I turned sixteen, and my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumour. I started to spiral, and as the stubborn person I tend to be, I convinced myself that I could deal with it on my own. I failed to realize what was truly happening until my first semester of university.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word “compartmentalize” as a verb that means “to separate into isolated compartments or categories.” This is exactly what I had been doing to myself and my emotions for years. I felt that if I broke down the events in my life that pained me, and tucked them away in the darkest parts of my brain so I could no longer see or interact with them, then I would be okay. I could push through and heal my own wounds with my own stitches. I did not know that – for some people – that is rarely ever the case.
The summer of 2019 was when everything came crashing down and I finally broke. I realized that I genuinely needed more help than I cared to admit. I believed that I had been tending to my wounds with water, when really it was salt – a pain that had ravished me at first, but grew a tolerance to after prolonged exposure. So I did the bravest thing a person could ever do and I asked for help because I recognized, understood, and appreciated that I needed it.
It has been quite a journey since then. My parents split up shortly after, which lead me into another spiral. And after so many years of looking for ways to actively soothe my overwhelming emotions, I was introduced to the titular box breathing, which has changed my life.
The best way to describe the process of box breathing is to imagine yourself breathing in the shape of a square. Breathe in for a count of four seconds, then hold your breath for another count of four seconds. Breathe out for four seconds, then hold your breath for another four seconds.
Breathe in 1…2…3…4…
Breathe out 1…2…3…4…
Hold 1…2…3…4… And repeat until you feel grounded enough to move on.
The most beneficial aspect of box breathing, besides its ability to derail incoming panic/anxiety attacks, or calm your thoughts, is that it doesn’t give itself away to the public unless you want it to. On my bad days, I practice box breathing on the long drive to work, or when I’m laying in bed at night with a racing mind. I can do it in the middle of an exam, or in the midst of a large crowd. It is silent and deadly in the greatest sense of the phrase.
Since being introduced to box breathing, I have noticed a significant improvement in myself and my ability to cope with hard situations. Instead of using Twitter as an outlet, I remind myself to take a step back, get comfortable, and just breathe. Box breathing – for myself – acts as a method of meditation where I take five minutes to focus on myself, my body, and no one else. If anything, it allows me to understand myself and my own needs better than I have since I was sixteen. In other words, it has given me freedom.
Overall, box breathing has completely altered my own ability to control my emotions in ways that I never considered possible. Where once I felt like an alien in my own body at times, I can become a cool summers breeze with just 5 minutes worth of deep breaths.
For more (in-depth) information on box breathing, click here.
If you feel ready enough to take that incredibly brave step in asking for help, please do not hesitate to reach out to the Student Wellness and Counselling Centre, who is currently operating remotely. The link for them is here.