Why you should combat breathe before you leave

Combat breathing can positively impact the time we spend with others, our ability to focus and the quality of our sleep

Combat breathing, also known as tactical or box breathing, is a tool taught to help reduce physiological stress levels before, during and after high-risk encounters. Combat breathing can help someone who is experiencing peak levels of stress rapidly regain control of their mind and body.

On day two of academy training, my cadre taught the concept of combat breathing to police recruits during the “Introduction to Physical Training and Defensive Tactics” session. Police recruits need to learn to be effective and measured while controlling subjects during stressful encounters, and introducing them to this critical skill early in training helps ensure they get a head start in managing their emotions.

Combat breathing refresher training

Several years ago, my training team realized how important it was to refresh members on the basics of combat breathing.

We began to review the concept with sworn members and detention officers at yearly in-service training as part of our broader stress management program, which also includes yoga, or as I, say, tactical stretching.

These annual refreshers have proven extremely valuable for understanding how officers handle stress in the field. Members share real-world examples of combat breathing positively affecting their performance during critical incidents and other stressful circumstances. As a result of feedback from members, firearms instructors also included box breathing as a part of annual in-service training last year, providing officers an additional opportunity to receive refresher training.

The basics of box breathing

There are some variations of the technique, but here are the basics:

  • Breathe in through your nose for a count of four;
  • Hold your breath for a count of four;
  • Exhale through your mouth for a count of four;
  • Hold your breath at the bottom of the exhale for a count of four;
  • Restart the cycle.

This technique is often referred to as “box breathing” because it focuses on all four corners of the breathing cycle, with the participant filling and emptying their lungs during each stage.

The tool isn’t just for police officers. It can be beneficial for anyone – even children – so share the concept with those close to you. Imagine a friend who is quick to anger while driving on the road spending a few breaths resetting themselves in rush hour traffic. Or maybe your seven-year-old who is uncontrollably upset about a schoolmate not inviting them to a birthday party.

This simple technique could benefit front desk personnel who spend their shifts taking reports from angry citizens. My husband served time as a detention officer before becoming a sworn officer. He would arrive at work one hour early simply to sit, breathe and prepare his mind for the upcoming shift.

A tool for decompression

Most police officers end their shifts by decompressing and trying to clear their minds in the roll call room or back at their desks. Adding focused breathing can help.

I encourage students to not only combat breathe throughout the day but to “combat breathe before you leave,” as in before leaving work. Dedicating a few minutes to purposeful combat breathing before leaving the station, the desk, or the detention unit can set the tone for how you spend the whole next part of your day.

Combat breathing can positively impact the time we spend with others, our ability to focus and the quality of our sleep. Supervisors should build in time for shift debriefings and encourage troops to “combat breathe before they leave” as a group. The concept can also be used in the reverse to help prepare for a shift.

The next time you experience anxiety or fear, remember to combat breathe. Having better control over your emotions improves physical health and well-being, which is guaranteed to dramatically improve both your personal and professional life.

NEXT: Stevens Point Police Department leads the way in officer health

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