In a stressful situation where you’re on edge, senses heightened and adrenaline pumping, it is likely your natural breathing pattern will become shortened, heavy and louder.

But breathing techniques can actually help calm the body to respond in these stressful situations in the most effective way. The Loudout Room, a subsidiary of SOFREP (special operations forces situation report), notes that these “tactical breathing” methods were used by ancient cultures and adopted by the military, but they should work in really any stressful situation you encounter.

(Related: What are those numbers on a soldier’s uniform?)

 

Tactical Breathing Techniques Calm Nervous System in Combat and Other Stressful Situations

You might imagine this special ops team in a stressful training situation were using tactical breathing to retrieve their teammate. (Photo: Master Sgt. Donald Sparks via soc.gov)

Here’s what Mark Miller for the Loudout Room writes about tactical breathing:

As practiced by modern police and military, it allows you to rapidly regain control of you body during critical situations.

Body functions, such as heart rate, body temperature, breathing, blinking, and digesting are controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). In most situations, you are unaware of the workings of the ANS because it functions in an involuntary, reflexive manner. There are two responses you do have control over – breathing and blinking. We can use breathing as a bridge back from mindless panicked “fight or fight” to put ourselves in an optimal condition to fight.

Optimal fighting condition, Miller writes, comes in at a heart rate around 115 to 145 beats per minute. Controlled breathing can help stabilize one’s heart rate. Here are step-by-step instructions for tactical breathing, which Miller writes should be repeated about four times for the best results:

  • Inhale through your nose, deeply, expanding your stomach for a count of four – one, two, three, four.
  • Hold that breath in for a count of four – one, two, three, four.
  • Slowly exhale through your mouth, completely, contracting your stomach for a count of four – one, two, three, four.
  • Hold the empty breath for a count of four – one, two, three, four.

If you employ these tactics, according to Miller, it will help you be “the smartest and strongest fighter you can be.”

Watch this YouTube video discussing and demonstrating tactical breathing (he has a slightly different technique, but the idea is the same):

Check out more details on Miller’s breakdown on the difference between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system here. If you still don’t get it, the U.S. government even has an iPhone app for it here.