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Manage Anxiety Like a Navy SEAL: Box Breathing

Updated: May 30

I spent Memorial Day weekend so far from WiFi, work wasn't an option. Immersed in nature, waking to the sound of water trickling down a nearby stream, I felt truly relaxed.


But, when I returned home, it felt like the relaxing weekend never happened.


  • Does life's nonstop to-do list leave you paralyzed?

  • Is anxiety preventing you from getting stuff done?


After unpacking, my apartment was a disaster. Thoughts of back-to-back meetings and tomorrow’s to-dos bombarded my mind as I starred at a mountain of smelly camping gear,


My stomach twisted into a knot. My heart raced. My anxiety levels skyrocketed. 


Over the next 3 hours, my anxiety got worse. I was struggling to follow simple conversations. While chopping broccolini for dinner, I was so fixated on tomorrow’s to-dos, that I botched the recipe. 


My fiancé paused and asked, “Is everything okay?” 


I needed to regulate my emotional state.


I should have done it hours before. Why I didn’t, I have no clue. 


I pulled out a tool from my executive function toolbox, regulated my emotions, and returned to the kitchen in control of my thoughts. 


The best part?


It only took 3 minutes. 


In this article, I share 1 simple, strategy to manage stress and reduce anxiety. 



What is emotional regulation?

Emotional regulation is an executive function skill. According to Dr. Peg Dawson and Dr. Richard Guare, emotional regulation is:


“The ability to control emotions to complete tasks, achieve goals, or overcome challenging situations”. 

Many neurodivergent adults, like adults with ADHD, struggle with this executive function skill. Dysregulated emotions cause procrastination, damage relationships, and limit career growth. 


What if there was a way to regulate our emotional state on the go?

digital clutter adhd

What is box breathing?

Box breathing is taught to athletes and professionals in high-pressure jobs, like the Navy SEALs. It is a proven strategy to regulate our emotions and reduce anxiety. 


How? You might be wondering…


The symptoms of anxiety include increased heart rate and rapid breathing. Box breathing slows our heart and breathing rates. The result?


Emotional regulation. 


How to box breathe


  1. Breathe in for 4 seconds

  2. Hold for 4 seconds

  3. Breathe out for 4 seconds

  4. Hold for 4 seconds 

  5. Repeat as many times as needed 


I typically do 3-5 rounds. Keep in mind that everyone is different. You might find more rounds beneficial. 


executive dysfunction

Now, here’s the catch. Two hours later, my anxiety returned. And as I write this, I realize I made a crucial mistake.


Instead of box breathing again, I decided to take out my planner and map out my week.


The result?


I missed an opportunity to be present with my fiancé. 


I am a work in progress. Sometimes I use my tools and sometimes I forget to.


And, that’s okay.


I’m learning to accept my mistakes and forgive myself. After all, to manage our lives, we first must manage our minds. 


Summary 

After a long weekend, stress from work skyrocketed my anxiety. It nearly derailed my evening until I used a short breathing exercise taught to Navy SEALS: box breathing. 


Box breathing is a powerful tool for neurodivergent adults. It helps people regulate their emotions, an executive function skill, in five minutes or less.


Next time you feel anxious, overwhelmed, or procrastinate, give it a try. 


You might just be inspired by what you discover.


Are you ready to improve your executive function skills?

We know adulting is HARD. It demands strong adult executive function skills. Luckily, we've made a LIVE course to cover the fundamentals so you can make the best of each day: Adult EF Skills 101. We are currently accepting applications!


In this course, you will:


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  • Learn how to find and keep a job 👩‍💻

  • Learn how to communicate effectively 🗣️

  • Learn how to budget 🤑


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About the Author

Eric Kaufmann, M.Ed is a Professional Educational Therapist and Certified Executive Function Coach. He is the Co-founder of UpSkill Specialists, an online adult executive function coaching company designed to guide adults in overcoming disorganization, procrastination, and productivity roadblocks so they can unlock their potential. Eric is also the founder of Elevate Learning Solutions, an Educational Therapy practice located in San Clemente, CA, that guides students with neurological differences toward becoming independent and confident students and self-leaders.

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Upskill Specialists was founded when two former special education teachers turned executive function coaches decided that adults need tools and coaching to improve their workplace skills and feel confident and empowered. Our mission is to ensure every adult with EF challenges has access to high-quality coaching services. 

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