Stressed and Overloaded? What Do They Mean by “Just Breathe” Anyway?

Here in part 4 of this blog series: Four Ways to Stop Stressing, Stop Doing Too Much, and Create Some Inner Peace.

“Just breath.”

“Take a deep breath.”


It all sounds good, but in the midst of stress, feeling overwhelmed, feeling frustrated or unappreciated or simply in the middle of a very bad day, acting on this advice can be quite a challenge. The direction to “breathe” is vague, and not very helpful. In fact, it probably feels easier to “do something” like reaching for something to eat, than to sit and to breathe. In the midst of stress, having a plan that is simple and concrete is best. “Not doing” is hard. Having one specific thing to focus on, or “to do” is likely to work better than a concept or theory, or even the direction to “breathe deeply.”

The next time that you feel stressed, anxious, overloaded, or unable to focus, try this very simple breathing pattern.

Four by Four Breathing or Square Breathing

There are four steps to this pattern. Imagine yourself creating a square with four equal sides as you complete the pattern:

Inhale for the count of four.

Hold for the count of four.

Exhale for the count of four.

Wait for the count of four.


As you repeat the breathing pattern and your body begins to relax (notice I said begins—you may still feel pretty frazzled), it will be easier for you to take deeper breaths and slow your counting.

Practice this breathing pattern whenever you want. Try it whenever you hit a red light or while you wait for your email to load. The beauty of this breathing trick is that no one needs to know that you are doing it. Use this pattern when you are feeling pulled in to habits you are trying to change (like overeating), or when you know you need to relax, readjust your mood, or simply create some quiet in your mind. Don’t worry if you don’t feel very skilled at this at first. Breathing deliberately is not an easy thing to do when you are stressed. However, using this breathing pattern will help your body trigger a relaxation response that can build on itself. The more you practice four by four breathing, the easier it will be to remember and use this breathing pattern when you really need it.

Take good care,


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