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How to Use Breathing to Maintain Your Cool in an Emergency

How to Use Breathing to Maintain Your Cool in an Emergency

Tactical breathing, also known as combat breathing, is a technique to stay calm or to regain your composure when stress is high. It's a technique used by soldiers, SWAT teams, Navy Seals, emergency responders and many others. And it's a technique that people have been using for eons. The beauty of using breathing to compose yourself is that it's available to all, easy to remember, and useful in so many situations.

The following technique is advocated by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman, a prominent former Special Forces soldier who taught psychology at West Point. (see footnote 1)

How to do it:

  1. Breathe in through your nose for a count of four
  2. Hold your breath for a count of four
  3. Exhale through your mouth for a count of four
  4. And hold your breath again for a count of four
  5. Repeat as many times as's important to completely fill your lungs and empty them with each cycle.

How it works:

"Combat breathing, like other breath control techniques, is a way for you to reset your nervous system and mindfully check in with your body. It breaks the moment of tension and allows you to flood your body with the oxygen it needs as it kicks into fight-or-flight mode." (see footnote 1)

"Humans have known for millennia that taking long, slow, deep breaths can have a calming effect and reduce stress. Conversely, panic attacks can cause a person to take short, fast breaths, further exacerbating the sense of unease." (see footnote 2)  

Freezing, losing your cool, or running in circles in a high stress evacuation - or any emergency - is a bad option. Practicing tactical breathing and using it in an emergency could go a long way towards your safety.  

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Below is a link to a simple one pager to print by Navy Medicine.