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Changing how you inhale and exhale could help reduce coronavirus anxiety

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.

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.

“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.

And there’s science to back up this technique. One study found participants who performed regular deliberate deep breathing exercises had lower levels of cortisol — a hormone in your body released in response to stress.

“We do it before every meeting in my company,” Divine said. “We do five minutes together as a team. I do it before and after every workout, I do it in my car, I do it anytime that I feel any kind of extra stress or tension. I believe it’s just the single most important thing that everyone can do to take control of their lives internally.”

And now the medical field has adapted box breathing for similar benefits. Dr. Stephen Miller, an emergency medicine physician and