While you can’t completely control where your heart rate goes in a high-stress situation, learning and practicing certain techniques can help you lower it and maximize your resistance to stress, allowing you to perform at optimal levels for as long as possible.
Practice tactical breathing. Tactical breathing was developed by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. It’s a technique that soldiers and police officers use to quickly calm down and stay focused during firefights. Here’s how to do it:
- Slowly inhale a deep breath for 4 seconds.
- Hold the breath in for 4 seconds.
- Slowly exhale the breath out for 4 seconds.
- Hold the empty breath for 4 seconds.
- Repeat until your breathing is under control.
Simple. What’s hard is having the discipline to do this when you start feeling stressed out.
Tactical breathing isn’t just useful for deadly force encounters. Use it anytime you’re feeling stressed out and need to bring yourself back down to optimal arousal levels.
Meditate. Studies show that individuals who practice meditation can clear distracting and stressful thoughts (like worry) from their mind more quickly than individuals who don’t meditate. That sort of ability comes in handy in high-stress situations like deadly force encounters.
The U.S. military is actually experimenting with mindfulness meditation training with its new recruits. The hope is that meditation’s stress-reducing benefits will help soldiers stay out of Condition Black while in the heat of combat, as well as help them recover more quickly after the encounter.
There’s not much to meditation. Just sit in a quiet place and focus on your breath going in your nose and out your mouth. Whenever a distracting thought pops up, don’t get flustered. Just name the thought, let it go, and focus back on your breath. If you’re like me, you’ll find that when you first start meditating, you get easily distracted by your thoughts. Don’t get discouraged; with time your mind will quiet down, and your ability to dismiss unwanted thoughts will improve.
Start off with one 10-minute session daily, and slowly increase your sessions to 20 minutes. If you have time, you may consider doing a 20-minute meditation session in the morning and another 20-minute session at night.