Tactical Breathing Can Stop Stress on the Spot

Breathe. Controlling your breathing really helps you in stressful situations. A time-honored technique , controlled breathing helps you manage stress reactions on the spot. This post introduces you to “tactical breathing” also called “combat breathing.”. The tool helps firefighters race into burning buildings, police officers face armed resistance and soldiers fight in close combat. Definitely high-stress, high-risk situations.

Breathe. Our day-to-day stress may be less dramatic, but it’s real, it’s ours, and the distress can be intense.

David Grossman, a Lieutenant Colonel in the elite U.S. Army Rangers, put tactical breathing on the map in his book, On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and Peace.

How to Do Tactical Breathing

With some practice, you can control your breathing, relax, and manage your distress. Here is how to do it.

Breathe from your diaphragm. Your stomach expands, moving out to make room for the air, as you breathe in, and contracts as you breathe out. Tip: Think of your stomach as a balloon filling with air as you breathe in, and emptying smoothly, automatically as you breathe out.

  • Breathe in through your nose to the count of 4.
  • Hold your breath to the count of 4.
  • Breathe out through your lips to the count of 4.
  • Hold your breath to the count of 4.
  • Repeat until you feel your body and mind relax.

Feel free to vary this tactical  breathing technique. For example, I often breathe in to the count of 4 and out to the count of 7. Important: with my particular approach you do not hold your breath after either exhaling or inhaling. The goal is a smooth, continuous cycle of breathing.

You can adjust either of these methods to discover what feels right to you.

More tips

Simply breathing out is linked to relaxation, and extending that breathing phase is very relaxing. Tip: Bump up the impact by mentally saying “reeeelaaaax” as you breathe out.

You can use breath control without practice, but you’ll be happier with the results if you train ahead of time.

Bonus: No one has to know you are using tactical breathing! You can use this technique inconspicuously in the middle of a distressing situation.

Use controlled breathing:

  • To help prepare for a stressful situation.
  • While you are actively dealing with stress.
  • Afterwards, to return to a more relaxed state.

Now breathe!


This entry was posted in Adversity and Resilience, Resilience Skills, Resilience Training, Self-Soothing, Skills. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Tactical Breathing Can Stop Stress on the Spot

  1. Pingback: Coping with stress using tactical breathing! Trust me, it works! | Look to This Day

  2. David Clark says:

    I have emphysema and often find myself running out of air which can cause a panic state. I heard a young man in a seal team video discussing combat breathing and thought it might help me with my breathlessness. I have found combat breathing prior to and during activity aids me in keeping ahead of the O2sat curve. I practice it in the morning before getting up and before taking my inhalers.
    Prior to this blog I had not heard mention of mentally saying relax….but I have incorporated it into my routine. Thank you

  3. I have anxiety & panic disorder as well as PTSD! It has been & can be very debilitating effecting every aspect of my life.
    What I really like about what you are saying is RELAXXXXX. Wow, I guess I needed to hear that but more importantly it is for me from this day forward has gone into my mental tool kit so that Tactical Breathing with the word Relaxxxx becomes a part of my everyday life in any situation.
    I’ve actually paid for classes on how to deal with these disorders but never did anyone touch base on the word relaxxx. Your way of describing the breathing is also very affective with the word Relaxxx because for me the two go hand in hand, one cannot be done with the other.. I have read other articles about this but found your methods so much simpler that it immediately clicked with my brain and the all my mental lights began to process this so quickly. This technique is part of me in my everyday life…
    Thank You so very much, who would’ve thought that one word makes all the different in the world…

  4. Greg says:

    I use this technique as one of my tools to deescalate. It is powerful and works.

  5. Thank for your comment. We know it is hard for many people to believe that something so simple could have so strong an impact, so comments like yours encourage others to try it out.

  6. Matt says:

    Nice tip with the word relax – it is easy to forget that relaxation is something we must consciously aim at, and keep reminding ourselves to pursue, rather than something that happens by default.

    Good blog, added to my favourites now.

  7. Ernest says:

    It also helps to smile as you exhale as it will relax your facial muscles and the rest of the body. This is one of the recommended exercises in climbing called centering which you do before and during the climb to control stress and panic.

  8. Matt says:

    These techniques absolutely work. I learned them from my divorce lawyer to deal with the stress of depositions and trial. My wife learned these from her doctor help slow down or stop panic attacks. My son is learning these to help calm himself down.

    A cooler head, a more focused mind almost always wins.

  9. Robert Baldas says:

    I have suffered from a stroke and can not remember to keep the five steps in order.
    I can remember to do your two step process of inhale to 4 count and exhale to 7 count .

    R. Baldas

    • Can you get an audio set up to guide you through the breathing method with the correct? I have used audios many times for myself, and also have tried using audios in presenting resilience training programs. The audios seem to work as well as having someone present to guide the procedure.

      Congratulations for being gritty enough to use the powers of your mind to find a way to greater functional capability.