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									                      KNOW YOUR STRESS STYLE.
                       AND, KEEP BREATHING!
                                           Mac Hart, Ph.D.

    In the past 24 years, I have evaluated well over 4,000 police and deputy sheriff applicants at the oral
board interview. In nearly every one of those board interviews, I asked the law enforcement applicant some
version of the following question: “How do you know when you are stressed? What personal cues alert
you to the fact that your tension is increasing or that your stress level is climbing?”

    I am alarmed when police applicants gaze back at me with blank looks on their faces, with seemingly no
idea what I am talking about, and/or who calmly insist - “I don’t ever get stressed.” To function well as a
human being and to respond adaptively to stressful life events, it is imperative that each of us learns to
identify (1) the types of things, events, people that cause us stress and (2) the kinds of actions, choices, and
adjustments that we can employ to help to alleviate that stress. Such awareness is essential for good
physical health, emotional health, and successful job performance. The stakes are even higher in law
enforcement work where officers are called upon to make split-second decisions in high-risk situations. Can
you imagine the dangers on a police officer on patrol, unaware of his elevated stress level – primed to shut
down or over-react with fear or anger when the unexpected occurs?

         “Stress Style Test: Body, Mind, Mixed?” (Daniel Goleman, Ph.D.)
In American Health (August 1987), Dr. Daniel Goleman published the following brief screening test to help
people identify their characteristic style of reacting to stress. The bold-text material that follows is quoted
directly from Dr. Goleman’s article: the directions, the checklist of symptoms, and the procedure for scoring
your personal responses.

Imagine yourself in a stressful situation. When you’re feeling anxious, what do you typically
experience? Check all that apply:

1. My heart beats faster.
2. I find it difficult to concentrate, because of distracting thoughts.
3. I worry too much about things that don’t really matter.
4. I feel jittery.
5. I get diarrhea.
6. I imagine terrifying scenes.
7. I can’t keep anxiety-provoking pictures and images out of my mind.
8. My stomach gets tense.
9. I pace up and down nervously.
10. I’m bothered by unimportant thoughts running through my mind.
11. I become immobilized.

12. I feel I’m losing out on things because I can’t make decisions fast enough.
13. I perspire.
14. I can’t stop thinking worrisome thoughts.

  “There are three basic ways of reacting to stress – primarily physical, mainly mental or mixed.
  Physical stress types feel tension in the body--- jitters, butterflies, and the sweats. Mental types
  experience stress mainly in the mind---worries and preoccupying thoughts. Mixed types react with
  both responses in about equal measure.”

  “Give yourself a Mind point if you answered ‘yes’ to each of the following questions: 2, 3, 6, 7, 10,
  12, 14.”

  “Give yourself a Body point for a ‘yes’ response to each of these: 1, 4, 5, 8, 9, 11, 13.”

  “If you have more Mind than Body points, consider yourself a mental stress type. If you have more
  Body than Mind points, your stress style is physical. About the same number of each? You’re a
  mixed reactor” (p.63).

In his article, Daniel Goleman then proceeds to suggest relaxing activities for persons with each type of
stress style. For physical stress types, he recommends activities such as: aerobics, yoga, massage, hot tubs
or hot baths, walking, swimming, or progressive muscle relaxation. For mental stress types, Goleman
suggests the following practices: meditation, reading, crossword puzzles, TV/movies, board games, arts and
crafts, or any absorbing hobby. Mixed stress types may want to experiment with a combination of activities
from the Mind and Body lists.

By all means, learn to manage your personal stress more effectively by selecting some of these kinds of
activities to include – on regular basis – in your weekly schedule. These are basically lifestyle changes that
can help address accumulated daily stress. But, what can any person do in that very moment when an
unexpected stressor occurs?

         Corrective Breathing – Get The Immediate Benefits
   Slow, nasal diaphragmatic breathing can be tremendously helpful virtually anytime that a stressful
physical or emotional threatens to unbalance us. By altering your breathing pattern in the midst of an
anxiety-provoking situation, you can actually slow down, and even reverse, your body’s “panic-provoking

    Reid Wilson, Ph.D. in his ground-breaking book, Don’t Panic-Taking Control of Panic Attacks, teaches
us that in response to any threatening situation (real or perceived), most people (1) increase their respiration
rates, (2) shift to an upper chest (thoracic) breathing pattern, (3) and engage in a high degree of mouth
breathing – that often takes the form of audible sighing and over-breathing.

   This over-breathing, or hyperventilating (sub-clinically), results in the body taking in too much oxygen
and blowing off too much carbon dioxide. This change in the normal balance of blood gases raises the pH

level in the body’s nerve cells – making them more excitable. When this occurs, Dr. Wilson tells us that the
body’s “Calming Response” is suppressed and all kinds of uncomfortable physical symptoms begin to occur
in conjunction with a panic response. Wilson observes, “Most people who hyperventilate never realize they
are doing so. They don’t report that they are having a problem with their breathing” (p.148). So, scratch that
image of someone overtly gasping for air, or trying to catch his breath by breathing into a paper bag, when he
is hyperventilating. This is how it is generally depicted on the movies or TV, however, it is generally much
more subtle than that.

    “Physical and Psychological Complaints Caused by Hyperventilation”
                                  (Reid Wilson, p.148-149)

Which of these have you experienced in the throes of a highly stressful situation?

   Heart palpitations                     Racing heart
   Heartburn                              Dizziness or lightheadedness
   Poor concentration                     Blurred vision
   Tingling of mouth, hands, feet         Shortness of breath
   Chest pain                             Choking sensation
   Lump in the throat                     Difficulty swallowing
   Stomach pain                           Nausea
   Muscle pain                            Shaking
   Muscle spasms                          Tension, anxiety
   Sweating                               Fatigue, weakness

   In effect poor breathing by itself, in response to an anxiety-provoking situation, can throw the body and
mind into a panic-like state that greatly reduces an individual’s ability to respond to the stressful event in an
adaptive, balanced, and intelligent manner.

   There is good news. It is fairly easy to learn to monitor your personal stress level and to start using slow,
nasal diaphragmatic breathing to help activate the calming response, when something stressful occurs.

     How To Use Slow Nasal Breathing To Decrease Your Stress Response

Please follow these simple steps:

1. Start monitoring your stress level (0-10 scale) throughout the day.
           Let’s define a “0 to 1” level of stress that extremely relaxed and carefree state of mind/body, such
           as you might experience in your favorite stress-free place, e.g. lying on a hammock in your back
           yard. Level “9 or 10”, then, will represent a highly anxious, near panic state of mind and body,

         where it becomes difficult to think clearly and lots of physical signs of stress are present. Most
         people report an average stress level of between “2” and “5” when they’re involved in their daily
         routines, and nothing particularly stressful is occurring. It’s very helpful to know, hour-by-hour,
         what level of “stress” or “relaxation” you may be experiencing.

2. At the first sign of an “elevated” stress response, begin to employ a slow, nasal
   breathing (described in step 3 below) pattern.

         “Elevated” stress is a relative term, so each individual must decide what kind of increase in stress
         starts to become disruptive or problematic. Generally speaking, people tend to identify stress
         scores in the “5” to “7” range as elevated. This will vary widely, however, depending upon your
         level of average stress during the course of the day. Successful intervention requires that you
         decide what stress level you are defining as “elevated”, then commit to employing this nasal
         breathing strategy whenever that unacceptable stress level occurs. This will promote the body-
         mind’s relaxation response.

3. Use the slow nasal, diaphragmatic breathing pattern in a deliberate way until you
   notice a significant decrease in your stress level.

         First – make sure that you have stopped any mouth breathing or sighing breaths. As we noted
         above, that simply makes things worse.

         Next – simply begin to breathe, a normal amount of air, gently and slowly through your nose,
         while focusing on filling only the lower part of your lungs (diaphragm or belly area). Then
         exhale easily through your nose. Repeat this process for a few minutes with a positive and
         expectant attitude until you begin to experience a calm, warm, and relaxed feeling in your chest,
         throat, and stomach areas.

         Reid Wilson, Ph.D. refers to this type of breathing as “natural breathing” (p.150). He suggests
         that we need to learn to breath from the diaphragm and to make that breathing pattern a regular
         part of our daily lives. He observes that over time we can learn this new habit of breathing from
         the belly, which helps us to become more resilient to the brief respiratory elevations associated
         with events that trigger our stress.

         In his book, Don’t Panic – Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks, Dr. Wilson offers the following
         exercise to help us learn this skill of natural breathing:

                1. “Lie down on a rug or on your bed, with your legs relaxed and straight and your hands
                   by your side.”
                2. “Let yourself breathe normal, easy breaths. Notice what part of your upper body rises
                   and falls with each breath. Rest a hand on that spot. If that part is your chest, you are
                   not taking full advantage of your lungs. If your stomach region (abdomen) is moving
                   instead, you are doing fine.”

                  3. “If your hand is on your chest, place your other hand on your stomach region. Practice
                     breathing into that area, without producing a rise in the chest. If you need help in
                     accomplishing this, consciously protrude your stomach region each time you inhale.”

                     “By breathing into your lower lungs, you are using your respiratory system to its full
                     potential. This is what I mean when I use the term natural breathing: gentle, slow,
                     easy breathing into your lower lungs and not your upper chest. It is the method you
                     should use throughout your normal daily activities” (p.150-151).

4. Strive to make this slow nasal diaphragmatic (“natural”) breathing pattern a regular
   and normal part of your daily life.
           Good “natural breathing” alone can do much to maintain the body’s calming response as well as
           to fend off or slow down the body’s emergency response when stressful events occur. So,
           practice it continually throughout the day – anytime that you are not exercising, or exerting
           yourself physically. You can maintain a sense of balance and emotional well being by practicing
           slow nasal breathing in your car, while interacting with others, or even while managing the
           various tasks and duties of your work day..


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