Just before deploying to Iraq in 2007, a behavioral health specialist came and spoke to our unit on ways to handle the extreme stress levels that we would soon encounter. Her advice was simple and easy to remember; and worked - as I later found out for myself. She taught us deep breathing techniques that would almost instantly reduce stress levels.
In a recent series found here, author Carolyn Magner explores the "suicide by truck"topic that is seldom talked about. A few years ago, I was struck by a wrong way drunk driver almost head on and you can read about it by clicking here. I don't think the driver was suicidal, but from the other stories I read, you just can't tell. Since that crash, I haven't been the same. I'm very paranoid that other drivers will swerve into my lane among other things.
This leads me to a stressful experience across I-80 a few weeks ago. There was major construction on the interstate with opposing traffic for 12 mile stretches. There were 4 or 5 of these construction zones going across Wyoming and Nebraska, each lasting for 12 miles. There were no barrier walls, just orange cones as the east and west traffic approached one another at the speed limit of 65 mph. This terrified me as I thought back to my experience with the drunk driver of seeing headlights coming right at me. I wanted to stop, but there was no way out, only to go through the zone. It was then I remembered what I was taught before. I used the techniques and was able to reduce my stress.
Below is what I was personally taught and it works for me.
Key points to immediate stress reduction:
- Inhale deeply (preferably through the nose)
- Hold that breath for a few seconds
- Exhale slowly as if you were pushing the air through a small straw
- Repeat until stress has been reduced- it starts working within 15 seconds for me
Why this works:
- Stress increases heart rate, which leads to increased stress - a never ending cycle
- Controlled breathing reduces your heart rate. The slower you breathe, the slower your heart beats and your stress level is lowered.
Our job is very stressful. We make our living on the same highways where somewhere between 35,000 to 45,000 Americans get killed each year. This simple breathing technique can go a long way in helping us reduce our stress to manageable levels so we can continue to do the necessary work of moving our nation's freight.