“On September 6, 2001, while working on a Robbery Task Force, I used tactical breathing seconds prior to shooting and killing a masked armed robber in a grocery store. The detectives had received information that this guy was going to rob a grocery store in town, so my partner and I were assigned to be in the store as the take down team. He was going to use the M-26 Taser (stun gun) to subdue the subject.
In the previous six robberies, the subject had been armed with a revolver, a semi-auto handgun, and a sawed-off shotgun. My job was to cover my partner.
Detectives saw the suspects leave in a vehicle and they began a moving surveillance team on them. We could hear what was going on over the police radio. The suspects drove by the store several times and stopped a couple of times to see if anyone was following them. Eventually, one of them was dropped off nearby.
We had surveillance set up in the parking lot and he could see the suspect at the end of the building. Surveillance was giving us a play-by-play of what the suspect was doing. He would crouch down behind a dumpster to conceal himself when cars drove by the store. We had plenty of time to think about what was going to happen.
I realized my heart rate was elevating. You know when you smash you finger with a hammer or slam your finger in the car door, and the finger starts throbbing? That’s how my heart felt. I told myself that it was time to start breathing. I kept breathing the way you instructed until I felt my heart stop pounding. I’m not sure how long it took, but I knew when I was ready. So I thought. It took half a second to fire seven rounds from the MP5 (submachine gun) on full auto. Six rounds struck the moving target. The next thing I remember was standing over the suspect thinking, “BRING IT ON!” and “HOLY S#%!” at the same time.”
-Correspondence to Colonel Dave Grossman, Expert on the Physiology of Combat
Even if you aren’t fighting crime in the streets, you are without a doubt fighting an equally deadly bad guy every day: Stress.
Most of us are horribly inadequate when it comes to relaxing, and have no idea how to relieve stress. As soon as that big exam, presentation, or deadline hits – the stress sets in.
Five minutes left to get to work, but you know it takes 15 minutes?
The adrenaline sets in and the cortisol starts pumping – we start holding our breath, our blood pressure increases, we get tunnel vision, we clench our jaws, we don’t hear as well, and worst of all, we get that subjective feeling of, well, being stressed.
The Hidden Assailant in Your Life
Chronic stress is one of the worst, most detrimental things to our health. And unfortunately, it’s one of the most common aspects of modern life.
A normal person 200 years ago might have only encountered severe fight or flight stress when fighting off a pack of wolves or running from a bear. In other words, short-term stress. Acute stress. It happens, and then it’s over. You get that adrenaline power, run for your life, then you’re either dead or you’ve survived.
But now everything makes us stressed.
Virtually none of us sleep enough, which increases our cortisol levels.
We sit in traffic, grab the steering wheel until we’re white knuckled, and curse at people while honking. More stress.
We overbook our schedules and rush from one thing to another. Stress.
We walk faster than normal (interesting observation – have you ever noticed that the faster you walk, the faster your mind races?)
We’re glued to cellphones and have near-constant ADD. We multitask. The list goes on.
I won’t sit here and lecture you like your mother about how bad stress is – you probably know based on how it makes you feel.
But let me show you what it actually does to us:
What it’s doing to our health and quality of life:
I’m all about quality of life. What’s the point in sacrificing my $2.00 coffee every day just to save up for a plane ticket every 2 years?
Not worth it. The little things matter.
For those of you who are already totally stressed out all the time, I’m sure you already know that your quality of life is totally crap.
Incase you forgot, let me remind you what stress does to your body:
- Stress can totally prevent fat and weight loss. (Also: lack of sleep has the same effect)
- Stress weakens your immune system dramatically.
- Employees with high stress levels have significant lower life quality, more fatigue, and poorer health.
- The more stressed you are, the less productive you become (except for low levels of stress which actually improve performance.)
- Those of you who are constantly stressed often self-report much lower levels of happiness [Duh...] (Interesting sidenote: Researchers found that the people who got some physical activity 2-3 days per week were less stressed and way happier overall.)
… I could go on forever.
Ultimately, this is all about cortisol (which I’ll go into some other time), but for those of you who aren’t sleeping enough or are living a stressful lifestyle: you are making yourself fat, miserable, and unproductive.
Take stress seriously.
The Stress Secret of People Who Live to 100+
And then I analyzed their responses to find the most common trends.
Guess what #1 was?
I will let them repeat what they said, in their own words:
[In reference to the woman] “She’s a very tranquil person and nothing fazes her. That’s why she’s living this long.”
“Friends, a good cigar, drinking lots of good water, no alcohol, staying positive and lots of singing will keep you alive for a long time.”
“Laughter keeps you healthy. You can survive by seeing the humor in everything. Thumb your nose at sadness; turn the tables on tragedy. You can’t laugh and be angry, you can’t laugh and feel sad, you can’t laugh and feel envious.”
“Eat right and do what you love. Whatever you love to do is play; doing what you don’t like to do is work. I have never worked a day in my life!”
“Don’t stay mad at anything–you have to get used to the losses, otherwise you can’t win.”
“Take it easy, enjoy life, what will be will be. Sleep well, have a Bailey’s Irish Cream before bed if you have a cold–you will wake up ﬁne the next morning.”
… See the trend?
All of these people were incredibly concerned with their quality of life and often said “just relax and enjoy life,” As part of their response (sometimes in association with a woman, cigar, or alcohol!).
I don’t think it was merely a coincidence that they lived that long. Cultivating a relaxed, stress-free attitude to life is crucial.
But how? That’s where SWAT comes in.
Why SWAT Teams and Special Forces Are Taught A Special Technique (And How You Can Use it, Too)
Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman is a psychology professor and expert in the field of combat psychology/physiology.
Grossman trains SWAT teams and other military groups to help prepare their soldiers (including police) better for the stresses of real combat.
One of the things he has studied the most is the stress response – and just how much it affects our behavior and physical abilities.
When we’re stressed (FYI this is hormonal stress induced by fear), the elevation in heart rate causes a couple interesting things:
- Around 115 beats per minute, our complex motors skills, visual reaction time, and cognitive reaction time improve (but fine motor skills deteriorate)
- Around 140 beats per minute, even complex motor skills deteriorate (even throwing punches is tough; which is why when you see guys at the bar get insanely juiced up on adrenaline, they bum rush each other and just go into bear mode — fine motor skills are gone)
- Above 175 beats per minute, tunnel vision sets in, loss of vision occurs, cognitive processing deteriorates, and irrational fight/flight/freezing can occur, including voiding of the bowels
Most of these things happen automatically because they are controlled by parts of the brain that we don’t normally have conscious control over.
However, the one thing we can control is our breath - which will then affect our heart rate and other aspects of our physiology that we cannot otherwise control.
What Grossman sought to figure out was how to control stress levels (and thus the heart rate) in order to maximize the performance of his soldiers:
And that’s where tactical breathing comes in.
How to Relieve Stress (And Not Give Yourself a Heart Attack) The How-To
So what’s the secret?
What’s the secret behind never getting that horribly stressed, rushed, pressured feeling?
In theory it’s simple: keep your breathing regular and your heart rate low throughout the day. Unfortunately, when you’re sitting in the line at Starbucks behind a complainer and you want to throw a shoe at them, it’s a little easier said than done.
So “how do I do this?” is the real question.
The easy prescription would be this: meditate. But I know you won’t do that.
For whatever psychological reason, handing people the formula to solving their own problems rarely results in people making a change. Just look at how many doctors are overweight.
Fortunately, I have a technique that you can do anywhere, anytime, and it will immediately lower your heart rate and kill the stress response — Tactical Breathing.
Tactical Breathing 101
Here’s tactical breathing in a nutshell:
Begin by breathing in your nose to a slow count of four, while feeling your belly expand like a balloon. Hold it for a count of four, then slowly exhale through your lips to a count of four and then repeat the process. Do it right now – In through the nose, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four. Out through the lips, two, three, four. So it’s basically just 4/4/4/ inhale/hold/exhale. That’s it.
Do it right now if you don’t believe me that it works wonders for instantly lowering your heart rate and helping to control the stress response.
When should I do it?
Use this throughout the day or anytime you feel your breathing get shallow, your chest get constricted, and the desire to throw sharp objects at people arises. It works insanely well.
I challenge you to use it at 5 various times throughout the day:
- When you’re at work and a co-worker/boss says something that makes you want to scream
- When you’re in traffic and you are getting pissed off
- When your kids are stressing you to exhaustion
- When you’re arguing with a friend/spouse/child/parent and you want to throw something heavy at them
- When you have a deadline, you are late for a meeting, or otherwise are in a rush — just start doing tactical breathing
The cool part? It works. And I’m not going to ask you to change your life and start meditating three hours a day.
When The Urge To Throw Something Heavy at Someone Shows up – How Do You Relax and Just De-Stress?
Leave a comment below telling me what magical technique you use to avoid throwing things at people.
Or, pass this onto a friend that you know really needs to chill out.
Finally, if you just really enjoy throwing heavy things at people when angry, leave a comment below telling me what you enjoy throwing the most — bonus points for the best story.