Combat Breathing

by Rich Presta on July 26, 2010

Harnessing the Power of Military and Police Tactical Stress Control Strategies for Your Own Anxiety

When in high-pursuit of a dangerous criminal that may be carrying weapons and willing to do almost anything to evade capture, law enforcement and tactical teams such as SWAT can’t afford to let their stress response cloud their senses and functioning. The typical symptoms of stress we all occasionally feel to various degrees such as tunnel vision, shakiness or loss of fine motor skills, and the loss of ability to focus and process our surroundings quickly may be uncomfortable and frightening to the average civilian who may feel this way while driving, on an airplane, or standing in line at the grocery store, but are dramatically more costly in situations where they can be not only a deciding factor to the individuals safety and survival, but the safety of others, and even the suspect. In order to effectively and rapidly reduce physiological stress levels and maintain control even in the most extreme and anxiety provoking of circumstances, law enforcement and military training has adopted what is called “combat breathing”, an easy to remember and perform breathing technique for the reduction of both the physical and mental effects of anxiety that can be used with surprising effectiveness by anyone experiencing anxiety, stress, panic attacks or fear in everyday life.

As anyone who suffers with anxiety or panic attacks knows all too well, the burst of adrenaline into the body during high levels of stress can virtually instantly effect optimal functioning and be terribly frightening, the fear response itself sometimes being mistaken as a sign that the individual is about to lose control or “go crazy”. Once the reaction that unleashes the stress chemicals into the body has started, it is incredibly difficult to turn off, although there are specialized techniques and advanced skills that can be learned to both prevent and end anxiety such as those discussed in my programs. Combat breathing was developed to help police and military personnel in rapidly regaining control over their bodies reactions during intense and dangerous situations and is considered a high priority aspect of successful training.

Alexis Artwohl, PhD., one of America’s most renowned police psychologists, considers it such techniques so critical to officer training, he was quoted as saying, “Police officers should be taught controlled breathing from DAY ONE in training to the point where it becomes so automatic they do it without thinking.” Additionally, Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman, a former special forces soldier who taught psychology at West Point and who created the widely used and praised training video “The Bullet-Proof Mind.” has taught the breathing exercise and its positive impact on performance during high-speed pursuits for years.

Sergeant Charles Humes explained the basics of combat breathing as follows, “The breathing is done in cycles. Breathe in through your nose for a count of four; hold your breath for a count of four; exhale through your mouth for a count of four; hold your breath for a count of four, and then restart the cycle. Breath deeply and methodically – completely filling and emptying your lungs during each cycle. This simple technique will lower your blood pressure and arousal/stress level, and minimize the overwhelming side effects of an adrenaline dump.”

When you’re feeling anxiety, fear, or a panic attack while driving to the grocery store, sitting in a meeting at work, getting a haircut, flying in a plane, or even sitting on your couch at home, follow the training given to police and military personnel whose lives hang in the balance of their ability to control their stress reaction and practice a few moments of combat breathing!

P.S. I’ve been asked if this type of breathing is appropriate for children who are experiencing anxiety or excessive fear, and the answer is a huge YES!  Teaching your child how to better control and navigate their emotions is a lifelong skill that will serve them well, and perhaps generations to come.  In fact, it is discussed in great detail in my program developed for children with anxiety at www.AnxietyFreeChildren.com.

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