Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Keeping Calm Under Pressure

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved

When confronted by danger it is important to stay calm so that you can clearly assess the situation and deal with it in a purposeful manner. Therefore, it is imperative that you learn how to stay cool and calm in the face of danger.

The number one way that you can keep yourself calm during danger is to have a plan ahead of time. In terms of dealing with violence, you want to decide in advance (before you ever step foot out of your door) how you will respond to a threat, if you will resist, how much you are willing to give up (money, ego, etc.), and to what lengths you will go through to keep yourself safe (would you deliberately kill someone if you had to). Keeping yourself safe all starts with deciding to take responsibility for your own safety, deciding not to become a victim, educating yourself about your threats, and then coming up with a plan of action to take when it does happen.

After your plan you NEED to train. Your brain is just like a computer in that it is open to any program you feed it, once it has a program installed it blindly runs that program, and when faced with something it does not have a program for it freezes. In your training you need to reenact a violent assault in a slow controlled manner and teach your brain new behaviors to respond with in those situations. If, in your training, you practice haphazardly and get overly stressed out then your brain will be programmed to automatically get stressed out in those situations.

Your brain objectively observes your surroundings and your actions and says, “Ok, so based on what I’ve seen, when you do ‘this’ then I do ‘that’”. If your brain observes that when you see that it is raining outside that you like to look for a rainbow, then, after a few repetitions of your brain noticing this behavior, it records that stimulus and action as a mental program. Before you know it you’ll begin looking for a rainbow automatically and without any conscious thought every time you see rain.

If, during training, your partner comes at you with a rubber knife and you start to get stressed out and overwhelmed then your brain will cause you to get stressed out and overwhelmed when it happens for real. However, if you realize this and focus on being proactive during your training and causing injuries, then your brain will record that as a program. If your partner comes at you with a rubber knife and you forget the rubber knife and focus solely on coming in, hitting targets, and causing injuries; if you look only at the target you want to hit and then don’t take your eyes off of it until after you’ve hit it, then that is exactly what your brain will learn and do during a real violent altercation.

When you train, go slow, go controlled, look at your targets, focus solely on your targets, and then step in and hit them, watch them go away from you, and then pick another target to hit. This is the path to injury and this is what you want to train yourself to do.

During the actual altercation you can’t really calm yourself down too much (most violent assaults occur in less than 10 seconds) but if it is a prolonged altercation such as an abduction or it’s after the altercation is over there are a few things you can do to calm yourself down.

If you are abducted you still want to focus on injuries, but if that is not possible at the moment (such as being bound in a car) you should first focus on your breathing to calm you down, and then try to figure out where you are, and then develop a new plan of action that you can take the second an opportunity arises.

A very basic breathing method used by the US military is called “Combat Breathing”. Basically, when you feel stressed out you simply breathe in through your nose for the count of four, hold it for four seconds, and then breathe out through your mouth for four seconds. This will regulate the flow of oxygen to your brain and have a calming and focusing affect.

If you need to calm yourself down after an assault I would recommend a Chinese technique called “Sun and Moon Breathing”. To do this technique you place your right thumb on your right nostril to gently hold it closed, and then you slowly and deeply breathe out of your left nostril for 30 seconds. The trick is to breathe as slowly and as deeply as you can. This breathing technique is more beneficial because by limiting yourself to just on nostril you further regulate your oxygen flow. “Sun and Moon Breathing” is an outstanding relaxation technique that I personally use every time I get stressed.

Using breathing techniques for relaxation can benefit you even when you are not stressed out. A recent study as shown that deep rhythmic breathing for about 20 minutes a day can produce the same results on brain scans that are seen by veteran meditators. It has been shown that simple rhythmic breathing can actually alter the topography of the brain. In the study it was shown that both rhythmic breathers and mediators had 5% thicker brain tissue in their prefrontal cortex compared to the average person. This thicker brain tissue occurred in the portions of the brain which deal with things like the handling and regulating of emotions, attention, concentration, and working memory, all of which control your reaction stress.

Simply all you'd have to do is spend 20 minutes a day doing the "Combat Breathing" or “Sun and Moon Breathing” technique and you'd start to see results like being calmer and better able to concentrate in a few days to a week or two. You could sit down every night to watch your favorite half hour TV program and practice your combat breathing until is was over and voila, you're done and miles ahead of other people in controlling your panic response and being better able to handle daily stresses.