Military personnel and police officers know how to tactical breathe extremely well. They spend days, weeks, months, and years in jobs that revolve around the most stressful situations the human mind can imagine. Many of them practice a technique called tactical breathing, also known as combat breathing, to focus and get in control of their emotions.
This technique also can help manage stress and calm in a matter of moments. This ability isn't just useful to military or LEO. It can be an invaluable tool to civilians and anyone who has experience in high-stress situations or suffers from anxiety and panic attacks.
When a deep, inexplicable fear strikes out of nowhere—you are most likely feeling panic. The American Psychological Association describes the attack as coming without warning, a feeling that is more nervous, anxious, or stressed about something. It's described as intense and washing over you sometimes without any obvious reason.
Sometimes the emotion one feels during a panic attack is being physically trapped, or agoraphobic (extreme reactions to wide open or overcrowded spaces, or being in a place where escape isn't easily noted or becomes difficult.) Some symptoms of a panic or anxiety attack are:
- Mind or body disconnecting about what is happening. Not understanding what is going on. Your mind may be telling you to run and to stay at the same time.
- A wave of intense fear or panic that seems like it comes out of the blue.
- Symptoms can peak in minutes and last upwards of half an hour.
- After a panic or anxiety attack, most people feel exhausted and residual side effects for hours after.
- Increased heart rate.
- Heart palpitations.
- Chest pain or tightness.
- Sweating profusely.
- Difficulty breathing and or hyperventilating.
The triggers of a panic attack depend entirely on the individual. Identifying what may set a wave of anxiousness off may help to manage symptoms, coupled with the tactical breathing technique.
No matter where you are, or who you are, a panic attack can hit you for no reason. If you start having to tell yourself to calm down, happy thoughts are immediately overwhelmed by crippling fear or anxiety or you experience any of the above symptoms alone or together, following this easy guide may help.
How Tactical Breathing Works
The steps to learn tactical breathing, also known as box breathing—is relatively simple and easy.
- Inhale for a count of four in through your nose. Sit or stand upright and try and inhale as slowly as you can. Focus on the air coming in.
- Hold for a count of
- Exhale through your mouth, counting to four. Do this as slowly as you can. Concentrate on trying to exhale all the oxygen from your lungs.
- Hold for a count of
- Inhale through your nose for a count of four.
- Hold for a count of
- Then repeat exhaling through your mouth for a count of four.
- Do this as many times as you need. The ideal number is 4 times in one sitting.
- Feel free to visualize the numbers appearing in your mind while counting.
Why does box breathing work so well?
According to the Mayo Clinic, there is significant evidence that intentional deep breathing can calm and regulate your ANS (autonomic nervous system, the primary command center for your body made of the brain and spinal cord.)
Your ANS regulates involuntary body functions such as temperature as well, and this can help even lower blood pressure and provide a sense of calm during a stressful situation.
Holding your breath allows CO2 to build up in your blood. Increased blood CO2 enhances cardio-inhibitory response of the vagus nerve (which helps control the heart, lungs and digestive tract.)
Tactical breathing as explained above can reduce the stress currently felt and even improve mood, which helps for several conditions such as anxiety disorder, panic disorder, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Tips and Tricks:
If you've never had to tactical breathe before, or never tried practicing deep breaths during stress it can be a bit difficult to get at first. Don't let that pile on top of any stress you may currently be experiencing. You may feel yourself get a touch dizzy during the first few rounds of practice. This is totally normal. Practice combat breathing as much as possible and you'll find that the dizziness or light-headedness will fade.
During any dizzy periods, feel free to sit wherever you can and resume breathing normally as possible.
Of course, if you are on active duty or working your job as a law enforcement officer, you can't afford to find a quiet place and close your eyes. But with the above steps, you should be able to practice this on your feet no matter where you are or what you are facing.
As a civilian, it is entirely O.K. to close your eyes during tactical breathing. Feel free to find a quiet, dimly lit space too for your practice or whenever you need to. It's not needed to perform this, but it simply helps when struggling through a panic attack.
It is entirely far too easy when under fire, whether that is live ammo or life tossing you stressors from all sides—to forget how we breathe affects our entire bodies, mental and physical. Do it too fast and you could begin hyperventilating, potentially making an anxiety attack far worse. But when we slow it down on purpose, we can normalize our bodies and begin the path to feeling calmer and less stress.
There's no shame if the cause of your panic attack isn't enemy fire. This breathing method is effective for everyone, from all walks of life. At a desk, on the trail, at the range, or during a long hike—utilizing tactical breathing can help you feel better and live healthier.
If you are experiencing moments of extreme, crippling fear and worry multiple times a day, take note. If you think you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder, reach out and speak to a doctor, therapist, or friend for help. And don't forget to breathe!