Use "4-square breathing" to calm down after a shooting

Surviving a life-or-death encounter is the most intense emotional experience you will ever have. The physical effects are well documented.

Your body will release a massive dose of adrenaline to give you the strength to fight and survive. But like any chemical, it also has negative side effects, including time distortion, tunnel vision, hearing loss, and emotional detachment.

Even after you survive an attack, your body and mind will suffer from the effects of this dose of adrenaline for hours. You can experience nausea and vomiting, exhaustion, and the urge to pace, yell, or babble rapidly.

So just when police are questioning you about why you shot someone, your body and mind are both working against you. This is the time when you can easily say or do the wrong thing and get yourself into a world of trouble even if you have acted legally and responsibly in defending yourself.

That's why you should learn a relaxation technique like 4-square breathing.

It is worth noting that when police officers are involved in a shooting, they are often given several days to calm down and recover from the adrenaline dump and intense emotions of the incident. They are shielded from immediate questions and given time to consult with their union representatives or legal counsel before giving a statement.

Unfortunately, this is the not the case for civilians. If you are involved in a self defense shooting, the investigation begins the moment you dial 911 and police are trained to ask you wide-ranging questions and get you to talk. 4-square breathing can help you regain at least some control over your body and help settle your mind so you can think and speak more rationally.

How 4-square breathing works

This technique goes by a variety of names, including square breathing, box breathing, 4-part breathing, and so on. And the details may vary depending on who is teaching you. However, the idea is always the same: slow your breathing to combat the effects of the body's fight-or-flight response.

Here's how it works:

  • Breath in slowly through your nose for a count of 4.
  • Hold your breath for a count of 4.
  • Breath out through your mouth for a count of 4.
  • Hold for a count of 4.

When you breath in, relax your chest and breath with your diaphragm. Your belly should move, not your chest. This will help you take air deeply into your lungs.

It may also help to close your eyes, but do this only if you are sure the immediate danger is over.

This technique is not magic. Don't expect it to completely reverse the effects you'll feel after a shooting. It can, however, help you relax enough to think more clearly, make better decisions, and remember your training before you call 911 and while you talk to authorities.

Most importantly, it can help you to avoid "diarrhea of the mouth," and do what most competent attorneys would advise in a situation like this: Shut up.

As a member of Second Call Defense, you'll be able to call our Emergency Legal Hotline, and a staff attorney will remind you about how to do this breathing technique. But it's wise to practice in advance. Try it anytime you're stressed.