Tactical breathing is a skill that can be used to manage stress. Also known as combat breathing, this technique ensures a steady flow of oxygen to the brain, brings down your heart rate, and increases your mental capacity. The result is being able to perform under pressure.
An overview of tactical breathing and why it works
Each day, athletes, first responders, law enforcement, military, and other professionals use tactical breathing to adapt to challenging situations and continue performing at a high level. Instead of becoming frazzled or overwhelmed from stress, these professionals remain calm by performing deep, regular breathing to a certain cadence.
Here is how Andrew Steadman, a Major in the US Army describes tactical breathing in his thesis:
…the simplest, most effective way to gain composure in the midst of an emotional event experience.
Here are the steps for this deep breathing technique.
Step 1) Breathe in (inhale) through your nose and count 1, 2, 3, 4.
Step 2) Hold your breath and count 1, 2, 3, 4.
Step 3) Breathe out (exhale) through your mouth and count 1, 2, 3, 4.
Step 4) Hold your breath and count 1, 2, 3, 4 and then repeat steps 1 through step 4 for a couple minutes.
The positive effects of tactical breathing are the result of deep, steady breathing so avoid the temptation of rushing through the count.
The tactical breathing technique visualized
Sync your breathing to the leaf below by following the movement.
If it has already started, then wait until the small leaf has shrunk to the middle.
1) Inhale through your nose for a count of 4 (leaf is expanding).
2) Hold your breath for a count of 4 (leaf is not moving).
3) Exhale through your mouth for a count of 4 (leaf is shrinking).
4) Hold your breath for a count of 4 (leaf is not moving) and then repeat these steps for a couple minutes until you reach calmness.
Practice tactical breathing on a daily basis
As with any skill, combat breathing or tactical breathing is something that can be learned. And the more you practice, the better you get at it. You’ll know when you are there when you call upon the skill without actively “thinking” about it.
Here are some moments in your day where you can practice deep breathing:
- In the morning while making breakfast (enjoy your meal with a clear mind)
- Prior to exercising (focus on your exercises to minimize injury)
- In the evenings before bed (empty a running mind so you fall asleep easier)
Being mindful of deep breathing is something that you can use whenever you would like in any location. By practicing a little each day, you’ll be able to use it on demand to effortlessly handle tough situations and stay in control.